Rattling off wins in the Jayhawk League is no easy task, and Hays Larks manager Frank Leo will say as much.
“It’s not easy to do in the Jayhawk League,” Leo said.
His Larks have made it look relatively easy through 11 league games this summer, however. After a 3-1 win over the visiting Bethany Bulls in the opener, the league- leading Larks (14-1, 10-1) stretched their winning streak to eight games with a 12-2 win in the nightcap.
It’s been the type of league start the Larks have been focused on since the team gathered a couple weeks ago.
“Coach Leo, from Day 1, he said ‘We want to win June,’ ” Lark Mike Mioduszewski said. “We want to win the first half. We don’t want to wait around for the second half to get in because it’s always better just to have it in the bag.”
If the Larks can hold on to their top spot through the end of the month, they’ll clinch a spot in the NBC World Series after failing to qualify a year ago.
“That’s our goal,” infielder Jax Biggers said. “We’ll worry about July when it comes.”
The secret to the hot start, according to both players and Leo, is a high level of chemistry that was established early in the season.
“We just come together really fast,” Mioduszewski said. “From Day 1, we were all joking around together. In previous teams I’ve been on, it’s been like a week or two weeks until you get comfortable with each other. I felt like we were comfortable with each other from the get go.”
“When you have 28 guys coming in, you don’t know how all the personalities are going to mesh,” Leo said. “This particular year, they’re meshing well.”
That chemistry was on display after the Larks secured yet another series win on Saturday. There was a dancing, using a bat as a putter and a glove as a makeshift hole and, of course, some dabbing.
There was plenty of reason to celebrate after one dramatic win in the opener and a more convincing win in the second win of the game.
The first game of the night was a pitcher’s duel for most of the night. Hays starter Augie Gallardo went the distance and earned the win after allowing one run on two hits. The Eastern Michigan product struck out four and issued two free passes on the night.
“He was good for (Eastern Michigan) all year, and he was good for us today obviously,” Mioduszweski, his teammate at Eastern Michigan, said. “It was really, really nice to see. He’s a huge addition to the team. Any time he pitches, we’re going to have a chance to win.”
Gallardo also got a big boost from Miodusewski late in the game to put him in line for the decision.
After a scoreless first inning, the Larks took the lead in the second. Gallardo cruised through a 1-2-3 top of the second before the offense gave him a lead.
Josh Minjarez drew a one-out walk and advanced on a single from Mioduszewski. Jacob Boston followed with a single to left that allowed Minjarez to score from second.
Bethany responded in the third inning when David Robens opened the inning with a single and later scored on a wild pitch.
It remained a tie game until the sixth. Gallardo hit Landon Vodka with an 0-1 pitch before allowing Vodka to reach second on a throwing error on what should’ve been a fielder’s choice. Gallardo erased the error on the next play when he fielded another bunt and got Vodka, the lead runner, at third. He then got Cade Carter to ground into a double play to end the threat.
Hays cleanup hitter Devlin Granberg got into scoring position with a one out double that sliced into the gap in right-center. After Minjarez flew out to right, Mioduszewski cleared the wall in right on an 0-2 pitch for a two-out homer to the opposite field that gave the Larks the lead.
“I’m just trying to hit what they give me and kinda take something that way,” Mioduszewski said. “Sure enough, he gave me an elevated fastball. That’s a pitch I do like, so I hit it and hit it well.”
Gallardo closed out the game by getting a pair of pop outs before striking out Bethany catcher Logan Carter.
The Larks owned a 7-2 advantage in hits, led by Mioduszewski and Boston who each had a pair.
Despite falling behind early, the second game turned out to be a more convincing win with the help of five Bethany errors.
Bethany got to the Larks’ Game 2 starter, D.J. Carr, before the hosts could get on the board. Following a pair of errors on back-to-back plays to start the inning, the Bulls used a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the third.
It was all Larks from that point on. Mioduszewski singled on the first pitch he saw to tie the game, scoring Nate Olinger and Devlin Granberg.
“The last five or six ballgames, he’s really been carrying us,” Leo said.
Saturday’s designated hitter credited assistant coach Keith Harper for his big night.
“He’s great,” Mioduszewski said. “He sees everything, even the minute details of your swing that are kinda going off a little bit.”
Biggers broke out of a mini slump in the bottom of the fourth that gave the Larks a lead. He later scored on a Minjarez single to make it 4-2.
“I just finally saw the ball a lot better, wasn’t chasing the high stuff, kept it low in the zone,” Biggers explained. “(I) just found my pitch and let it go.”
After scoring a pair of runs in back-to-back innings, the Larks broke the game open wit six runs in the fifth after Carr retired the Bulls in order in the top half.
Boston and Mikey Gangwish opened the inning with singles before Boston touched home on a wild pitch. After Andy Shadid earned a walk, Biggers brought Gangwish and Shadid in with a single that made it 7-2. Biggers then stole second and scored on a single from Minjarez.
Run-scoring singles from Olinger and Granberg gave Carr an eight-run cushion to start the sixth.
“It’s a relentless lineup,” Leo said. “We’ve got a couple guys that aren’t hot right now that I think have the potential to be hot.”
Another 1-2-3 inning from Carr allowed the Larks to add to the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Biggers’ third hit of the game brought in his fourth RBI, and the Larks capped the scoring when Boston scored on another passed ball.
Carr worked around a leadoff single in the seventh to pick up the complete-game win. Both of the runs he allowed were unearned, and he limited the Bulls to four hits. It was the second strong outing for Larks starters, as the team did not have to use a reliever on Saturday.
“Lights out performances,” Biggers said of the starters. “That was huge for our bullpen. They didn’t have to do anything. It was expected from those guys.”
While Biggers’ three hits and four RBI led the Larks, Minjarez, Olinger, Mioduszewski and Boston each had two hits, helping the Larks own a 14-4 advantage in the category.
Today, the Larks will look to continue their win streak to nine games and put themselves in better position to get back to the postseason.
““It’s a great start,” Leo said. “It’s the kinda start we wanted to get in June, and now we gotta finish the month. We got (ourselves) in a good position, and we can’t back off now.”
Hays 3, Bethany 1
Bethany 001 000 0 — 1 2 1
Hays 010 002 x — 3 7 1
Gallardo and Waller. Mason and Carter. W — Gallardo. L — Mason. 2B — Granberg, Boston. HR — Mioduszewski.
Hays 12, Bethany 2
Bethany 002 000 0 — 2 4 5
Hays 002 262 x — 12 14 3
Carr and Gangwish. Pape, Macaluso (5) and Hughes. W — Carr. L — Pape. 2B — Biggers, Olinger, Mioduszewski.