By NICK McQUEEN
This spring at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Ian Bentley, a freshman, made a team-high 19 appearances for a 20-34 Highlander team.
All but one of those appearances was in relief, and the Lancaster, Pa., left-hander had a team-high five saves.
Thursday night at Larks Park, Ian Bentley was a savior for the Hays Larks. It just didn't come in the late innings.
Bentley pitched four innings of scoreless relief as the Larks rallied from a 5-0 deficit after two innings for a 6-5 win against the Dodge City A's. It was the Larks' seventh straight win and pushed them to 10-1 overall and 6-1 in league play. Dodge City (2-8, 0-7) lost its seventh straight.
"That's a guy that's going to help you win a ball game," Larks manager Frank Leo said of Bentley, who earned his first win of the summer. "If he doesn't come in and plug the dike, we're in trouble right there."
Larks starter Jeff Chesnut was in trouble early. Aided by a Larks error and two missed double-play opportunities, Chesnut fell in a 3-0 hole in the first.
Chesnutt walked four through two innings and eventually trailed 5-0.
Dodge City's first run came after a leadoff double to Dodge City's Zach Jacobs on the first pitch of the game.
Two walks later, Chesnut allowed the first run on a wild pitch. Then Hays missed back-to-back double play opportunities that could have helped keep the score at 2-0.
"It was unusual. The first one, you have to turn that one," Leo said of a mishandled throw. "But, you can't walk five guys, and (Chesnut) knows that.
"It was pressure early on, but he'll settle in. Just needs some innings to get some things fixed."
Bentley came on in the fourth facing a 5-2 deficit and blanked the A's through four innings while the Hays offense went to work.
"Five is doable to come back from, and we couldn't let them have any more right there," Leo said. "It was early enough where we could chip back in, but Ian Bentley saved it for us."
The Larks' offense posted two runs in the third with a two-RBI single by Zair Koeiman. Then, in the fifth, Mackenzie Handel lined his second home run of the season off the scoreboard to pull the Larks within 5-4.
"Mac had a huge home run for us," Leo said. "There were still opportunities we have to cash in on. I didn't think we had good at-bats at times when we had opportunities in the middle of that ball game.
"We'll have to improve on that."
Still, the Larks got just enough. Cody Daily tied the game in the sixth on his solo home run to right-center field, chasing starter Ty Thomas, a right-hander from Fort Hays State University.
Then in the seventh, Hays took advantage of two Dodge City errors at shorstop, and Desmond Roberts collected his third hit of the game to drive in the go-ahead run.
"It was a slow start," Leo said. "We didn't pitch well early and we made some mistakes, but they competed."
Bentley, who was 3-2 with a 6.05 earned-run average this spring, struggled a little bit in the seventh but got out of a bases-loaded jam when he caught Ben Gann looking.
"He's so valuable out of the pen," Leo said of Bentley. "He can give us those innings from the left side."
Alex Frey and DJ Carr combined for a scoreless eighth inning. They allowed a walk and a hit, but struck out three. David Owen, the right-hander from Arkansas State University, worked around two walks in the ninth for his first save.
Roberts finished 3 for 4 with an RBI, while Clayton Garland and Jake Placzek each had two hits, and Placzek scored twice.
Hays travels to Wellington for a three-game series, beginning at 7 p.m. today. Right-hander Jason Zgardowski (1-0) is due up to start. Wellington is 9-2 overall and 5-2 in league play.
The Heat play in a new town this summer after spending the past few seasons in Haysville.
"They're off to a good start, playing in their home park," Leo said. "It's a new town for them -- lot more energy than there was in Haysville.
"We'll have to go down there and get after it."
The Larks had two more pitchers arrive this week, and one could see a start in the Sunday game. After Zgardowksi, Nick Goza will make the start Saturday, and Leo said newcomer Colin Hightower, a right-hander from Eastern Oklahoma State College, could start Sunday. ... Also joining the Larks was Kyle Krings, a right-hander from Arizona Western.