WICHITA — A barrage of runs in the early stages of the NBC World Series quarterfinal propelled the Hays Larks to a 13-7 win over the Alaska Goldpanners on Thursday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
The teams previously met in an exhibition game last Aug. 3, which the Larks also won. Players and coaches alike felt like the team benefitted from the prior experience, especially from an offensive prospective.
“It gave us a feel for them,” Larks manager Frank Leo said. “Some of the arms that we saw tonight, we saw last Wednesday.”
“We knew we could beat them,” shortstop Jacob Boston added. “Not easily, but if we play our ball, we could beat them.”
Now, Hays will get a shot at the Kansas Stars, a team comprised of former Major League players, in today’s 7 p.m. semifinal.
Through five innings Thursday, the Larks’ bats recorded 15 hits, or one for each out to that point. It produced 10 runs and let starting pitcher Stephen Yancey work with a seven-run advantage for his sixth and final inning. Hays finished the contest with 13 runs on 21 hits.
The Larks’ leadoff man reached in each of the team’s first five trips to the plate. The first two batters reached in each of the first four innings.
Hays’ offense got going in the bottom of the second after the Goldpanners opened the scoring with a run in the top half. Boston and catcher Matt Waller singled to left to start the inning and advanced into scoring position on a balk.
Connor Ross used a sacrifice fly to center to plate the Larks’ first run later in the inning.
After Yancey struck out three batters in the top of the third, the Larks took their first lead on an Alex Weiss sacrifice fly. Waller followed with a fielder’s choice to third, and Nate Olinger beat the throw home to make it a 3-1 game after three innings.
“Getting the leadoff guy on is huge, and then when you can get the guy on deck on too, it’s big. We finally got some big hits today,” first baseman Austin O’Brien said.
“We did the little things to score all the runs, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Yancey gave up his second run in the fourth, but the Larks followed with a five spot in the bottom half.
Ross doubled to lead off the inning, and Michael Burns followed with an RBI single that ended Alaska starter Damian Powers’ night.
Mitch Hayes came on and failed to record an out before exiting. Redington, Olinger and O’Brien linked run-scoring singles against Hayes to make it 7-3 before he was replaced by A.J. Franks.
Boston singled later in the inning to plate the Larks’ eighth run.
“I guess we ate our Wheaties in the morning, or something,” Boston said. “We haven’t had 21 hits in awhile. Everyone was seeing the ball very well today. It was fun.”
A diving play from Ty Redington limited the Goldpanners to one run in the top of the fifth before the Larks extended their lead in the bottom half.
Burns led off the inning with a double and later scored on a single off Olinger’s bat. The second run of the fifth came when Olinger scored on a fielder’s choice from Boston to make it 10-3.
After a scoreless sixth, Goldpanner designated hitter Isaiah Aluko crushed a three-run homer off Layne Downing to give the Goldpanners some sense of life.
Yancey exited after six innings. He allowed three runs on six hits. He struck out five and walked one. The outing continued a strong tournament from the Larks’ pitching staff.
“Our pitchers have carried us through the beginning of this tournament,” O’Brien said.
“Yancey did a great job tonight. Hopefully, we can get the bats going, and the pitchers can keep doing their thing for these next two games.”
The Larks put the Goldpanners back in a seven-run hole with three runs in the bottom half.
Olinger led off the home half of the seventh with a double and scored on an O’Brien single.
Boston then tripled to right to score the Larks’ first baseman and end Franks’ afternoon.
Matt Waller welcomed Joe Fernandez to the game with an RBI single that made it 13-6.
“Unfortunately, you can’t carry them over, but the hitting is contagious,” Leo said. “It’s all about confidence, and tonight, I thought we were very comfortable in the box. When hitters are comfortable in the box, they’re going to be able to produce.”
Ryan VanLeeuwen handled the top of the eighth for Hays and returned to the mound for the ninth with the Larks still up by seven runs. The reliever allowed back-to-back singles before an errant throw from Boston at short wound up in the visitors’ dugout, making it 13-7.
VanLeeuwen rebounded by striking out Aluko and fielding a hard-hit ball of Kevin Connolly’s bat for the second out. He then put the Larks in the semifinals by getting a groundout to Boston at short. The inning from Downing and two from VanLeeuwen could turn out to be a big plus for the Larks over the remainder of the tournament.
“We got a couple guys in to save our bullpen, and they both did good. Layne Downing has a guy struck out to be out of an inning and unfortunately, their best hitter is up. He leaves a pitch up, and the guy hits a home run,” Leo said. “We should be fresh now for two days.”
The first seven batters in the Hays lineup had multi-hit games. Burns and O’Brien led the team with four hits apiece, while Boston’s three RBI led the Larks.
Aluko paced the Goldpanners with a 3-for-5 night. He plated three runs on his homer and scored three times.
The Larks put up the big offensive numbers without one of their best hitters. Mike Mioduszewski, who recently won the tournament’s home run derby, but fell victim to a stomach bug Wednesday night. He ended up in a Wichita hospital and received a pair of IVs. The Larks’ manager told him to spend Thursday getting his strength back in hopes of having him for the semifinals.
“I told him when I left the hotel, I said, ‘We’ll go win one for you and get you back in the lineup tomorrow,’ ” Leo said.
Leo said his team should approach tonight’s game as it would against any other opponent.
“We just going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Leo said. “I tell them stay loose, have fun and stay focused, and they’ve been doing that.”
His players seem to have gotten their wish.
“I would love to play the Stars,” O’Brien said. “I would love to play the big league team. That’s what it’s all about. It’d be a lot of fun.”
“I want to face the major leaguers just to say I’ve hit off a major leaguer before,” Boston said. “Let’s do it.”
Hays Larks 13, Alaska Goldpanners 7
Alaska 010 110 300 — 7 12 0
Hays 012 520 30x — 13 21 2
Yancey, Downing (7th), VanLeeuwen (8th) and Waller. Powers, Hayes (4th), Franks (4th), Fernandez (7th) and Browne. W — Yancey. L — Powers. 2B — Ross, Burns, Olinger (Hays); Aluko (Alaska). 3B — Burns, Boston (Hays); Atwell (Alaska). HR — Aluko (Alaska).