By NICK McQUEEN
All season long, in home games, Hays Larks manager Frank Leo has given third baseman Cam Brown the business about his radar for placing the ball in Larks Park.
The Larks' leader in home runs, doubles and RBIs this season, Brown, a Geelong, Australia, native by way of Yavapai (Ariz.) College, had only gone for extra bases three times at home all year heading into the final game of the season Wednesday at Larks Park. He made it four times in an 8-1 victory over Jayhawk League foe Dodge City.
"I kid him a lot. I know he's had a lot of fly-outs to center field," Leo said. "I keep telling him, 'That's 405 feet out there, Aussie, pick a different part of the park.'
"He does crush them, though. The ball jumps off his bat," Leo added.
It did just that in Brown's second at-bat on the first pitch Wednesday in the third inning. Brown blasted a grand slam to left-center field, sparking a 7-0 start for the Larks. It was Brown's team-leading eighth homer of the season, and part of his 2-for-5 night as the Larks had little trouble closing out 2010 with a win.
"We needed to get some runs quick," Leo said. "That's the kind of offense this team has been all summer. We weren't really a peck-away-at-you type of offense. Cam led the charge."
Three-year Lark pitcher/infielder/outfielder Andrew Heck followed suit, blasting a two-run homer in the fourth to put Hays up 6-0 in a smooth-sailing night for the Larks, offensively, defensively, and more importantly, on the mound, where the team had struggled for most of the season.
Starter Cory Jordan (2-2) worked seven innings, allowing one run, and Andy Lewton and Vincent Littleman closed things out. The Larks' bullpen had allowed 57 runs in the Larks' previous 10 losses, but was perfect through two innings Wednesday.
"Cory did a great job. We struggled against this Dodge City club earlier getting through the early innings," Leo said " ... He has a ways to go yet, but he was redshirted this spring and didn't get a chance to throw any innings. Tonight, he had some great breaking pitches and his velocity looked good."
Jordan, a San Jacinto (Ariz.) Community College freshman, struck out six A's, walking five, but pitched himself out of a pair of jams. The Larks defense did the rest behind him, as Dodge City grounded into three double plays, all started by shortstop Elvin Rodriguez.
"How about Elvin Rodriguez. Man, did he play some 'D' tonight," Leo said. "That was a clinic out there. He was going left, right, coming in to get baseballs. That's what he was advertised at all year long, but the past two weeks, he's really picked it up and that's been fun to watch. He and Sean Wilson were an outstanding double play combination. They were fun to watch all summer long."
Fort Hays State University catcher Sloan Soulia added to the offensive production with a pair of RBI doubles to round out the Larks' scoring, one in the fifth, the other in the seventh to set the final margin.
Hays (21-17 overall, 17-15 Jayhawk) wrapped up its season with a third-place finish in the Jayhawk League, while Dodge City dropped to 16-25, 10-21.
It's just the third time in 29 seasons as manager that Leo has not taken a team to Wichita for the National Baseball Congress World Series.
"That's going to be a different thing. It was a different ending. In the past it's more preparation to get ready for the World Series," Leo said. "This year, it was more playing for pride, going out there and playing hard and just having some fun."
* Prior to the start of the game, 3-year Larks Andrew Heck and Brandon Eckerle were honored with a ceremony and plaque by their respective host families. Heck, who recently signed with Oklahoma State University for next spring (See Sunday's HDN) and Eckerle, from Michigan State University, both had multiple-hit games in their final outing at Larks Park. Eckerle was 2-for-4 with a run scored in the leadoff spot, while Heck was 2-for-5 with a homer.
* Four of the six Jayhawk League teams will compete in the NBC World Series. League champion Haysville had the choice to take its Jayhawk League berth or its berth from the Midwest Regional championship, and chose the league champion slot. Had Haysville chosen the regional bid, Hays would have qualified. Liberal finished second in the league, earning a berth. El Dorado was given the automatic bid after last year's NBC championship. Derby, which finished fifth in the Jayhawk with an 11-20 mark, finished second in the regional behind Haysville, getting the regional berth that became open.