By NICK McQUEEN
Last week in a home game against the Liberal Bee Jays, Hays Larks starter Jeff Chesnut had a solid game going before an error led to five unearned runs and eventually the snapping of Hays' 11-game winning streak.
In that start, the Bee Jays chased Chesnut on five straight singles and sent the University of Nebraska product out with his only loss.
Tuesday night against the Dodge City A's at Larks Park, the sixth inning nearly proved to be a rough one again for Chesnut. Only this time, the right-hander recovered.
Chesnut worked around a double and back-to-back singles in the sixth against the A's, then came back for a 1-2-3 seventh as the Larks eventually won 7-1 at Larks Park.
Hays moved to 17-3 overall and 13-3 atop the Jayhawk League, while Dodge City fell to 9-12, 4-10.
"I was commanding all four pitches fairly well tonight," said Chesnut, who made his fifth start. "I think it was something like 55 strikes and about 32 balls.
"I just kept them off-balance and sped it up when they weren't expecting it."
Chesnut, who will be a sophomore for the Cornhuskers, had a solid outing against a Dodge City team that two weeks ago roughed him up in a three-inning start. Chesnut gave up five earned runs on five hits in that game with five walks.
Tuesday was nearly the opposite. Through seven innings, Chesnut gave up six hits (three in the sixth) through seven innings and bested his previous longest start by 1.1 innings. He struck out three and walked one.
"Outstanding," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "His game against Liberal, he gave us five good innings, and we made an error, and he flattened out a little bit.
"Good comeback for him after his previous outing," Leo added. "This is a club that hit him around a little bit two starts ago, and he went out there and got it done."
Chesnut did give up the hits in the sixth, but worked around it with a three-pitch strikeout to end the threat. Then after the Larks sent eight batters up in the sixth, Chesnut came back on and recorded the 1-2-3 seventh on 11 pitches.
"I was a little bit (surprised)," Chesnut said. "When they told me to go out, I just decided to empty the tank in the seventh -- it worked out."
Dalton Viner and David Owen combined for two scoreless innings of relief to seal the deal. Owen struck out two in the ninth.
"We had a full bullpen ready to go," Leo said. "But his arm speed and his bite on his breaking stuff was very good in the seventh."
Meanwhile, Hays' prolific offense struggled a bit early to manufacture. The Larks left six stranded through three innings before Jake Placzek, who was back after missing the weekend series at Derby, broke through with an RBI single in the fourth to break a scoreless tie. Then in the fifth, Hays scored three runs. Two came on a two-out, two-RBI double by Brett Lang, the first two RBIs of the season for the second-year Lark.
"I'm not totally concerned in the early innings," Leo said. "It seems like they keep grinding it out and have good at-bats.
"Things start happening. We've put runs up early, but it seems like this club, they don't panic."
Hays posted two more runs in the sixth on a wild pitch and an RBI single for Clayton Garland. Zair Koeiman tacked on the final touches with an RBI flyout to deep center in the seventh.
"They're very confident in each other, one through nine," Leo said. "Someone's going to get something started and guys behind them are going to get it going."
The Larks finished with nine hits and chewed through five Dodge City pitchers.
Lang, who missed the latter part of the regular season this spring at University of North Carolina-Charlotte with a quad injury, has had a rough start for the Larks. In his first four games, Lang recorded just one hit. Tuesday, he had two, and drove in a pair of runs.
"Maybe that will get him going," Leo said. "Those were the best at-bats he's had back-to-back-to-back (two hits, walk).
"That's a good sign, because we know what Brett can do," Leo added. "He's not an unknown."
Desmond Roberts also recorded two hits, and scored the Larks' first run. He also reached on an error in the fifth and had two stolen bases.
The Larks take a break from league action with back-to-back games against the Boulder Collegians today and Thursday at 7 p.m. at Larks Park.
Leo said the club will team-pitch both games, and get some different arms some work. He will also try and get some of his 12 position players rest. Hays then hosts Wellington in a three-game series beginning Saturday at Larks Park.
"We only have 12, but I call them the 'Magnificent 12,' " Leo said.
"They have a lot of versatility. We'll try to give each guy at least one day off."