By CONOR NICHOLL
After the Hays Larks used nine pitchers in a three-game losing skid and lost right-hander Chase Johnson to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in the last four days, manager Frank Leo and pitching coach Keith Harper started right-handed reliever Kurt Wunderlich Saturday night.
"With losing all of the pitching that we did, we were going to have to piece things together to get some mileage out of some of our arms that are in right now," Leo said. "Coach Harper thought Wunderlich was our best shot to give us five or six good innings and then maybe have some bullpen in behind."
Instead, Wunderlich, who had made one collegiate start this spring for Michigan State University and had thrown three relief appearances for Hays this summer, delivered a complete game in a 4-2 Hays win at Larks Park. It marked the longest pitching appearance of Wunderlich's career at any level and helped the Larks end a three-game losing streak, tied for the longest in the last two years.
Hays picked up its first league win and moved to 4-4 overall, 1-3 in the Jayhawk League. Liberal is 4-5, 2-3 Jayhawk League. The start was the first time a Larks pitcher had worked nine innings since Brock Nehls worked a complete game in the 2007 National Baseball Congress World Series. Hays improved to 4-1 at home this season.
"He gave us what we needed," Leo said. "Fantastic job. When you are thin and you get a guy to go nine innings first game of the series, it saves your bullpen and then tomorrow we can attack as much as we need to since we have a day off Monday. Outstanding job. Kurt pitched with a lot of poise."
The Larks had lost three straight versus El Dorado and Derby to open Jayhawk League play this week. Hays, which lost several pitchers in preseason and is looking to add arms, was pushed to the limit in the three defeats and permitted 31 runs.
That included an 11-7 loss to Derby on Thursday on a walk-off grand slam. After the game, Wunderlich, who had posted a 2.25 earned-run average in four innings for Hays and whose lone start came against Clemson in the spring season on March 10, when he went five innings in a 15-2 loss, was told he would start Saturday.
"We are short on the rotation and they just needed to a guy to start and I just told them that I was good with that," he said. "So I got the start today and went out today and I wasn't feeling that great through the first three innings."
Wunderlich was nicked for a run in the first inning when Cameron Monger, who played for the Larks at the NBC World Series last summer, considered one of the fastest players in college baseball and was selected in the MLB draft, reached base on a dropped third strike, stole second and scored on a grounder. Hays tied the game in the fifth on a single, error and forceout and added two in the seventh on a leadoff triple by Sean Wilson on a 0-2 pitch, an error by Liberal shortstop Bryce Baugh and two singles.
Wunderlich, who struck out seven and allowed five hits over 110 pitches, was helped by several sterling defensive plays.
"It wasn't a set number of innings or pitches," he said. "I was at 80 through seven and the coaches just said to keep going and I said I wanted to keep going."
The Larks turned two double plays, including one where Wilson fielded the ball behind second, shoveled the ball to Jason Morriss, who barehanded the toss and threw to first. Morriss also added a backhanded play to squelch a first inning Liberal rally.
"Defense played good," Wunderlich said. "Jason made some sick plays. The turn up the middle."
Hays also threw out Monger, among the NBC leaders in stolen bases last season, twice in the third and eighth. Monger was nine for nine on stolen base attempts this spring for University of New Mexico.
"I don't think Monger has ever been thrown out twice in one game," Leo said.
Wunderlich permitted a solo homer in the ninth, but coaxed two final outs. Rafael Valenzuela ran in from the outfield and bearhugged Wunderlich on the mound.
"I was mainly throwing fastball, slider, changeup," he said. "I threw a lot of two-seam fastballs away to lefties and to righties and sliders into the lefties and away from righties and changeups just away to lefties was my main thing. I only threw a couple changeups to righties."