The Hays Larks were forced to say goodbye to one of the most prestigious conferences in summer collegiate baseball in 2018, but not before winning one last Jayhawk League title.
The Larks cruised to their 10th league title, going 26-9 in league play and 35-12 overall while earning a spot in the NBC World Series last summer.
Soon after the season, the future of the Jayhawk League was put in doubt after four members — the Derby Twins, Great Bend Bat Cats, Haysville Aviators and El Dorado Broncos — departed for the Sunflower Collegiate League, leaving the Jayhawk League with just four teams at the time.
After attempts to add more teams were unsuccessful, the Jayhawk League’s 42-year run ended when the Larks, the Dodge City A’s and Liberal Bee Jays announced in September they would join Kansas Collegiate League Baseball.
The Larks winning the final Jayhawk League title and joining the KCLB is the No. 5-ranked story on The Hays Daily News sports year in review.
“It is a sad day for the Jayhawk League,” Larks manager Frank Leo said. “It’s been there since 1976, and the Hays Larks have been part of it since its inception. It is tough to see the league go by the wayside.”
The 10-team KCLB will also be comprised of the Wellington Heat, Kansas Cannons (Augusta), Clearwater Outlaws, Park City Rangers, Valley Center Mud Daubers, McPherson Pipeliners and Kansas Curve (Wichita).
“This league is going to be kind of refreshing, I guess," Leo said. "It’s going to be a lot of new faces and some old faces. Sometimes change is good. Hate to see the Jayhawk League go by the wayside, but the best option to stay in the NBC is to join this league.”
It was a fitting final season in the Jayhawk League for the Larks, who won 24 of their first 29 games and used a nine-game winning streak in the middle of summer en route to capture the league title. They were 1-2 in the NBC World Series, unable to advance out of pool play.
Easton Kirk, from Wallace State (Ala.) Community College, was the top threat at the plate for the Larks, hitting .410 with six home runs and a team-high 42 runs driven in. Abilene Christian’s Ryne Randle hit .372 on the season and led the team with 17 doubles, while Wyatt Divis, who is headed to UT-Arlington, posted a .340 average and drew a team-high 49 walks.
Michael Wong (Pima Junior College in Arizona), Fabian Muniz (Arizona Western) and Tyler Blomster (Colorado School of Mines) were the Larks’ top starters on the mound. Wong went 4-1 with a 2.77 ERA, Muniz was 5-2 with a 2.96 ERA while Blomster was 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA.
“It was a special team,” Leo said after his 36th season at the helm of the Larks. “I hope our fans realize how hard it is to put a team together every year. It gets tougher each year with what coaches want to send out. You’ve got to get after it and do your homework and do your due diligence.
“We’ll try to enjoy what this ball club brought to Hays, brought to the Larks’ program.”