WICHITA — A special season of Hays Larks baseball came to an unspectacular end in the championship game of the National Baseball Congress World Series on Saturday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, as the Santa Barbara Foresters won their sixth title, 6-2.
It’s the fifth time in the Larks’ history the team has reached the championship game and failed to win. Saturday’s loss snapped a nine-game winning streak that included a 5-0 start to the World Series and a two-game sweep of the Jayhawk League championship series.
After beating the Kansas Stars in 17 innings the night before, fatigue could’ve been an excuse, but it wasn’t one the Larks (43-11) were using. After all, the Foresters started their 12-inning semifinal at roughly 1 a.m. Saturday.
“I don’t think it was fatigue,” first baseman Austin O’Brien said. “We can’t really use that as an excuse because they played three (hours) later than we did.”
“I think maybe just a little bit of it was fatigue, but they had some good arms,” designated hitter Mike Mioduszewski added. “You gotta tip your cap them.”
With both teams’ semifinal game running into Saturday morning, the game was destined to come down to pitching, Hays manager Frank Leo said.
In the end, that was a battle won by the Foresters.
“I think we both kinda drug out a little bit, so it was going to be who had the better arms,” Leo said. “They out-dueled us tonight.”
The Larks offense was tough to slow down once it got started for much of the summer. Unfortunately for the Larks, it didn’t get going until the top of the ninth Saturday night.
Alex Weiss lead off the ninth with the Larks’ first extra-base hit, a double to deep left. Jacob Boston was then hit with a pitch to put two on with no outs for Mikey Gangwish. The Larks’ catcher grounded into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning.
Ty Redington plated the Larks first run with a groundout to relief pitcher Cody Crouse. Connor Ross followed with a liner to right-center that scored Gangwish for the second and final run of the Larks season.
Michael Burns, who was later named the tournament’s most outstanding hitter, bounced out to first base for the final out.
Crouse was only the second pitcher Santa Barbara used after starter Jacob Patterson spun seven scoreless innings to open the game. Both of the Larks’ top hitters agreed the Texas Tech southpaw was one of the better pitchers they saw this summer.
“He’s definitely up there with the best,” O’Brien said. “He had good fastball, good slider just spotted his pitches well. He was too tough for us tonight.”
“He’s real good. He spots up well, hides the ball well, gotta tip my cap to him,” Mioduszewski said. “He mixed his stuff up well, which is why I think he kept a lot of our hitters off balance. He didn’t attack anyone the same way twice.”
Patterson’s strong start helped the Foresters out to an early lead.
Hays starter Alex Lopez, who entered the championship game with an 8-0 record on the summer, didn’t appear at his best in the championship game. After the Larks stranded a runner in the top of the first, Lopez gave up a one-out single to Kyle Isbel before walking Bret Boswell.
Lopez rebounded with a strikeout for the second out, but Lex Kapler hit an RBI single to give the Foresters the lead in the bottom of the first.
Dylan Paul then hit a two-out, two-run double that dropped in front of a diving Michael Burns in center to extend the lead to three runs.
Isbel tripled in the second after the Larks stranded two in the top half to give the Foresters a 4-0 lead early.
Santa Barbara chased Lopez from the game with two outs in the bottom of the fourth after Matt Henderson plated Hank Loforte with another triple.
Sam Reed came on in relief of Lopez and kept the Foresters off the board until the seventh. Reed, a left-handed pitcher with a sidearm delivery, fared better than Lopez, a righty, who wasn’t a great matchup for the Forester lineup which featured multiple lefties in the meat of the lineup.
“We didn’t match up very good there,” Leo said. “Sammy did a very good job of keeping us in that thing.”
Reed was replaced by Shane Browning after Boswell singled home Henderson to make it 6-0 in the seventh.
Patterson exited after seven innings. He limited the Larks to six hits and two free passes. He struck out five.
“He was good. He had great command,” Leo said.
“He was ahead of the hitters all the time. We barreled some balls but not enough of them.”
Crouse came in and retired the Larks’ two-, three- and four-hole hitters in order in the eighth.
Austin Isenhart, normally a starter for the Larks, came on for the bottom half and kept it a six-run game to go to the ninth.
Weiss and Redington were the only two Larks to register two hits. Isbel tallied four hits for the Foresters, while Henderon and Kaplan added two apiece. Santa Barbara finished with a 12-8 advantage in hits.
After Crouse got out of the ninth, the Foresters celebrated with a dog pile, while the Larks were forced to watch and wonder.
Both teams then gathered around home plate as trophies were awarded. In addition to hoisting the runner-up trophy, two Larks earned individual honors. Burns was named the top hitter at the tournament, while Keegan Curtis, Friday night’s starter, was named the top pitcher at the tournament. Patterson was named the most valuable player.
Once the teams were free from obligation, the Larks retreated to the visitor dugout to pack up their things and bid each other well. It was a sad ending to a largely joyous summer.
“We had like 10 starters leave and we still won. We still came together and won, which was awesome,” Mioduszewski said. “It was just a great experience all summer, honestly. Hays made it a great experience. Everybody’s host families were great. Coach Leo was great.”
“They just played better than us tonight,” O’Brien added. “Disappointed that we couldn’t bring a championship home to Hays, but it’s been an unforgettable summer, a lot of good memories. I’m definitely thankful I got to be a Lark.”
The season ends with 43 wins, second best in the program’s history, while the second place matches the Larks’ top showing at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. Leo’s bunch also won both halves of the Jayhawk League slate and swept the championship series.
It’s a team the longtime manager won’t soon forget, and not just because of the team’s success between the lines.
“We’re disappointed tonight, but give us a few days to really reflect on what these guys accomplished. The hurdles they jumped over and kept battling every time. One of my favorite teams as a Lark because they played so hard from Day 1 right to August 13,” Leo said.
“It’s always tough this last game because you want to win it, and these guys worked so hard last night to get in this position. I’m just proud, very proud of what they did.”
Santa Barbara 6, Hays 2
Hays 000 000 002 — 2 8 0
Santa Barbara 310 100 10 x — 6 11 0
Lopez, Reed (4th), Browning (7th) and Gangwish. Patterson, Crouse (8th) and Coe. W — Patterson. L — Lopez. 2B — Weiss (Hays); Kaplan, Paul (Santa Barbara). 3B — Isbel, Henderson (Santa Barbara).