By RANDY GONZALES
The slumping Hays Larks lost 4-1 to Jayhawk League leader Liberal on Tuesday night at Larks Park.
Hays (15-10 overall, 9-9 Jayhawk) has now lost three straight and five of its last seven just past the midway point in the league race. Top two teams qualify for the NBC World Series, and after not going last year for the first time since 1991, the Larks have veteran manager Frank Leo a little worried.
"I'm concerned," Leo said. "No doubt, I'm concerned.
"This club is playing to lose right now; I don't know why," he added. "Early in the year, they played with a lot of confidence, they played to win, played with some energy."
Defense was the problem on Tuesday, with three errors leading to three unearned runs.
After Hays starter Kirk Jewasko gave up a solo homer to Blake Bergeron in the first, the Bee Jays scored a run in the second on a throwing error by first baseman Cody Gougler.
"We couldn't play defense," Leo said. "They had one earned run tonight.
"We play defense, we got a chance to win that ball game," he added.
Hays got an unearned run in the third off Liberal starter Kasey Merck. Elvin Rodriguez led off the inning with a single, stole second and went to third on a throwing error by the catcher. One out later, Rodriguez scored on Sean Wilson's groundout.
Leading 2-1, Liberal (23-7, 13-6) scored two unearned runs in the seventh off Larks reliever Nick Goza. An error by Gougler at first base was followed by a bunt single.
Goza then picked off the runner at first but threw the ball away down the line in right, allowing both runners to score.
"Nick Goza just made a mistake first and third," Leo said. "It's something you don't get to practice in the summer time."
Merck (3-1) worked the first six innings for the win, allowing a run on five hits, with two walks and two strikeouts. Jared Moore tossed two scoreless innings and Cale Elam pitched the ninth to earn a save.
Jewaskso (2-2) gave up two runs on two hits in six innings, with no walks and seven strikeouts.
He kept the Larks close, but they left the bases loaded in the third when MacKenzie Handel lined out to center to end the threat, and with two outs in the fifth and a runner on third, Jon Ryan flied out to the warning track in center field.
"We need something to break open, bust us loose," Leo said. "Until that happens, we're going to keep struggling."
Right-hander Andy Lewton (2-1) is the probable starter in today's 7 p.m. game against Liberal at Larks Park.