The Hays Sr. Legion Eagles looked as if they wanted to escape the uncomfortable heat in the early stages of Wednesday’s doubleheader against Dodge City at Larks Park.
Later on, however, the Eagles appeared to realize the quickest way out of the heat was to end the game early, as the team scored all nine of its runs in the final two innings for a 9-1 win in a six-inning game. The Eagles (6-2), which primarily are made up of current and former Hays High School students, extended their winning streak to six games with a 4-2 win in the nightcap. The only blemishes on the Hays record came in a season-opening sweep at the hands of Great Bend.
From that point forward, head coach Kyle Stacken has been pleased with his team’s play after a tough defensive showing in the opener.
“Since then, we’ve kinda got our full group together now,” Stacken said. “We’re still getting used to where everybody’s playing and how they’re playing, but they’re doing a good job.”
After Wednesday’s two wins, the Eagles are feeling good about their play heading into a weekend tournament in Dodge City.
“We’re swinging it really well, and pitching is coming together,” first baseman/pitcher Jared Haynes said. “It’s been a real nice start, in my opinion.”
Stacken and Haynes expect the team’s bats to be able to lift the team when other facets of the game are lagging.
“Our strongest point right now is our offense,” Stacken said. “We’ve got six or seven guys in there that are older, have a lot of experience and always seem to put together good at-bats.”
The Eagles’ offense was a little slow to start Wednesday but it heated up as the temperature dropped.
Dalton Stout, the Hays starter, allowed Dodge City to take a 1-0 lead after its first trip to the plate in Game 1.
Neither side scored again until the bottom of the fifth. Ryan Ruder, one of two Thomas More Prep-Marian graduates on the team, came on for Stout in the third and tossed three scoreless innings before receiving run support.
Hays center fielder Marcus Altman tied the game at one with a liner to left to score Cole Schumacher.
Haynes, the next batter to step in, opened the game up with a three-run homer that quickly cleared the wall in left. He picked out a pitch and punished the Dodge City pitcher’s mistake.
“I was just sitting fastball,” Haynes said. “He elevated it a little bit. I hit it, got a lot of it and took a nice little jog around the bases.”
Ricky Hockett, the other TMP alumnus, relieved Ruder to start the sixth and quickly found himself in a jam that prompted a meeting on the mound with Stacken and infield. He ended the inning by inducing a force out at third, and Dodge City left the bases loaded in what turned out to be its last chance.
Altman upped his RBI total to three in the opener with a ball that dropped in between a pair of Dodge City fielders in shallow right. After Altman scored on an error, Stout stepped in and made it 8-1 with an RBI triple to right.
Jace Armstrong ended the game with a single that rolled into right and allowed Stout to score.
“It was a little bit of a slow start for us, but once we got those couple timely hits, the bats seemed to get going,” Stacken said.
Stout led the Eagles with three hits, while Haynes and Altman each plated three runs in the first game of the day.
The Eagles’ offense rolled into the second game, as Altman doubled to the wall in left to score Schumacher in the bottom of the first. Altman then took over the pitching duties in the top of the third after Haynes opened the game with a pair of scoreless innings.
Altman tossed a scoreless third and doubled the Eagles’ lead in the bottom half with a single to left that scored Hockett.
Dodge City threatened in the fourth, but the shutout was kept in tact by an outfield assist from Armstrong in left that cut down a Dodge City runner for the first out of the fourth.
An RBI groundout from Ruder made it 3-0 in the bottom of the fourth after another scoreless frame from Haynes. The future Fort Hays State University baseball player did what he hoped to in his final showing before this weekend’s tournament.
“I was just trying to locate my stuff and get ready for this weekend,” Haynes said. “That’s what I came out to do and felt like I did a pretty good job.”
With the tournament on the horizon, Stacken wanted to limit the workload and divided the innings across eight pitchers on the night.
“We ran basically all the arms we had out there, and it seemed like everybody competed and threw strikes,” Stacken said. “At this level, that’s all we can ask.”
Willie Sennett got the ball to start the fifth and allowed Dodge City first baseman Eric Reid a single that was lined back up the middle. Reid came around to score on a single from Luke Royle. Sennett’s day quickly ended when he allowed the visitors to load the bases with only one out.
Nick Fisher came on and walked the first batter he faced, making it 3-2, but got a pair of foul outs to preserve the Eagles’ lead.
Armstrong gave Fisher an insurance run in the bottom half with a single to left.
Fisher’s night ended after he walked the leadoff batter in the sixth, and Brett Herrman came on to finish the game. The last out of the sixth inning came on a hard-hit ball that caught Herrman in the midsection before he collected himself and beat the runner with a throw to first.
He returned for the top of the seventh and kept the visitors scoreless with some help from Ruder. The right fielder charged hard on a blooped ball. He was unable to make the diving grab but gathered the ball and recorded the final out with a dart to third that easily beat a Dodge City base runner.
It was the final instance in what was a pretty clean defensive day for the Eagles, who were out hit 13-8 in the game.
“Defensively, we’ve come a long way from the first doubleheader,” Stacken said.
“If we continue to play good defense, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
The Eagles hope continued improvement on pitching and defense will net some hardware at the end of the summer.
“Their goal is to go win a state championship,” Stacken said.
“That needs to be our focus and our goal for the summer. There’s no reason they can’t accomplish anything they want.”
When the defense and pitching is slow to develop, the team plans to lean on its offense to finish winnable games.
“As a whole, I think we’re going to swing it pretty well,” Haynes said.
“When we need it, I feel like we’ll step up and score runs and win a lot of ballgames.”