By CONOR NICHOLL
This year's version of the Hays Larks has representation from 12 colleges, including second baseman Jason Morriss, the lone player from NCAA Division II powerhouse Angelo State (Texas) University. Morris, like all first-year Larks, needed a few days to meet his new teammates and get his swing back after the spring collegiate season.
Morriss, an Australian native, had no trouble fitting into a new environment. On Tuesday, Morriss met most of the players. Wednesday provided Morriss' and the Larks' first opportunity at game action, a 14-1 nonleague victory against Lindsborg in the season opener at Larks Park.
"We are still learning names, but we are getting along real good," Morriss said. "We got together (Tuesday) night and sort of got to know each other a little bit. That was real good. I am really looking forward to the summer. It is going to be a great time."
Hays had 15 hits, including a three-run homer from Rick Deveraux, a first baseman from Duquesne (Pa.) University. Morriss, batting second, went 4-for-4 with a hit by pitch, two doubles, three runs scored and an RBI. Leadoff hitter Brandon Eckerle, a returning all-Jayhawk League performer, also reached base five times.
"I was real anxious to get out there and start the game," Morriss said. "I was a little nervous a little bit there in the pregame, but after that first at-bat, it took the nerves away and things took off from there. It was a good win for us, too, to start the season off. It was good all around."
The Larks, without several players, including Joe Huwer, a starting catcher/outfielder on the 2008 team, had just eight position players available. Doug Dreher, a Hays High School graduate, former Lark and professional player and first-year Hays coach this summer, played right field and batted ninth. Dreher reached base four times and collected three hits, including a two-run triple in the seventh inning.
"There were no reserves listed on the lineup card," Hays manger Frank Leo said with a smile. "He was No. 9 and he did a nice job. He got some time at third base when we had to rotate everybody around."
Hays team pitched against Lindsborg (0-1), a first-year program that featured Nash Smith and Trent Mauler from Fort Hays State University and players from Bethany College and multiple Kansas junior colleges. The Larks used nine pitchers, one every inning, and permitted four hits overall and an unearned run in the first inning.
Chandler Gilbert (Ariz.) Community College pitcher Chris Larsen earned the win after he pitched a perfect sixth. Chase Johnson, one of the Jayhawk League's top prospects and a possible Major League Baseball pick in next week's draft, struck out the side in the eighth. Andy Lewton, a former Hays High pitcher coming off injury, worked through a scoreless fourth.
"I thought Larsen did very good," Leo said. "Chris Larsen got in there and got us a 1-2-3 inning. I liked them all. Their command wasn't as sharp as it's going to be, but you have to remember most of these guys haven't thrown at hitters in three weeks. They need to get back at it."
Leo has had a roster in flux in the late spring months, including the loss of Morriss' collegiate teammate and third baseman Isaac Garcia because of injury. However, second base, with the well-traveled Morriss, is one of several positions that's solidified early. Morriss, from East Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, went to Clarendon (Texas) College, in a town with a population of 2,000. Clarendon College is a west Texas school known for its Australian players.
"I am used to all of the small towns, this sort of thing, it's great," he said.
Morriss hit .317 with 52 RBIs for 45-20 Angelo State this spring. Garcia suffered a season-ending injury and will miss the summer, but Morriss was still excited about playing for the Larks.
"This is my first time staying over," Morriss said. "I just wanted to be over here anywhere and just playing baseball in the summertime, having a lot of fun."
Through the first few days, several Larks have jokingly called him "Aussie, Aussie" as the players have started to get to know each other.
"They are all great kids with good personalities and they have all blended in well," Leo said. "When you consider what he has given up to play baseball over here in the United States, sees his parents maybe once a year, if he goes back to Australia now, it's winter time, so he wants to play the game and he wants to play it at the next level. He is going to be playing hard out here this summer because it is a key summer for him."
Morriss who hadn't played since May 17, batted second. In the first inning, he was hit by a pitch and scored when Devereaux lofted a three-run homer down the right-field line, just inside the foul pole. Morriss singled and scored in the Larks' six-run, six-hit third and doubled twice and singled in his first three at-bats.
"I was a little rusty the last couple days, just having a break after the spring," Morriss said. "The swing felt really good tonight and stayed real short and just seeing the ball real well. All of the things add up and you get hits."
Hays will play host to Denver in a three-game series starting today with a 6 p.m. doubleheader at Larks Park. The teams will play a 7 p.m. game on Saturday.