By NICK McQUEEN
WICHITA -- Despite winning six straight games after dropping its tournament opener, the Hays Larks had one bad habit during the 78th annual National Baseball Congress World Series.
Against a perennial contender and a veteran-laden Seattle team Friday night in the semifinals at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, that habit reared its ugly head again -- in key situations.
Hays left nine baserunners stranded, five of them in scoring position, and fell to the Studs, 6-2. Hays finished its season 35-13 and in a tie for third place in the 2012 tourney, its first third-place finish under longtime manager Frank Leo.
"Today, we got guys on at certain times, and just couldn't get that one hit," said second-year Lark Aaron Cornell. "When a team can't do that, they struggle."
Veteran starter Aaron Breit, who had been solid in the Larks' third win in the elimination bracket, struggled against a strong Seattle club that has taken second place in two out of the previous three NBC tournaments.
Hays was coming off an 8-0 run-rule victory the night before against the defending tournament champion Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters.
"We never did get into the flow of the game," manager Frank Leo said. "Coming off the big win, you're a little concerned as a coach you could be a little flat."
Breit, a former Thomas More Prep-Marian standout and former professional with the Padres organization (AA), struggled through 2.2 innings. He gave up four hits, walked two, and left with a 3-0 deficit. One run was earned.
The two runs scored by the Studs (41-10) in the third inning were the result of a miscue by Cornell in center and a throwing error by first baseman Ryan Busboom, who was trying to make a play at home.
"We were a little flat early and they took advantage of it," Leo said. "Asking Aaron to come back on four days rest when he hasn't thrown in a year, I know we were pushing it hoping to get five (innings) out of him."
Seattle starter Miles Nagel kept every Lark with the exception of Austin Darby off-balance for the first four innings. Nagel did walk three, and Darby collected a pair of singles, but Hays left four runners stranded in scoring position (two at third base) in a 4-0 hole.
"You saw the Studs, they executed," Cornell said. "They get guys on and get a base hit to right field and score two. Things like that, just putting the ball in play has a lot to do with it."
The Larks scored their first run in the sixth inning after a one-out walk to Darby. Designated hitter Adam Humes, who joined the team last week after playing in the Alaska league, connected on a single to left center to score Darby from second.
Nagel was replaced by Taylor Thompson, who finished the game.
"We had a shot there in the eighth inning," Leo said. "I thought we were going to make a little noise."
Hays went through seven pitchers to keep the Studs at bay. Seattle's Bobby Joe Tanehill scored from third on a passed ball, and Kyle Boe drove in a run to put the game out of reach for the Larks. Breit, Patrick Flanagan, Jake McDavid, Jason Heflin, Caleb Hawkins, Eric Gilliand and Brett Macari all saw time on the mound.
"Our guys are gassed," Leo said. "They played hard, but the tank tonight was unfortunately running on empty."
Mackenzie Handel led off the eighth with a double off Thompson, and scored on an RBI by Jon Ryan, in a pinch-hit appearance, but two pop-ups ended the threat.
Hays' nine runners stranded pushed its tournament total to 81 (8.1 per game). That included leaving 12, 17, 9, 11 and 12 runners stranded in five straight wins after losing the opener. Despite that, though, the Larks were honored with the tournament's best offense award, leading the field with 73 hits, 15 doubles, and 96 total bases. That was heading into Saturday night's title game between the Studs and Foresters.
"We would trade those in for a couple key hits tonight," Leo said of the awards. "Unfortunate in this game, you can't do that."
Darby also earned an award for RBIs after collecting seven through eight games, and Shawn Lewick (2-0 with a 1.29 earned-run average) earned the tournament's top pitcher award.