With several comeback wins already on the resume this summer, a six-run deficit hardly seemed insurmountable for the Hays Larks.
But after being held in check at the plate by Valley Center for seven innings on Tuesday, the Larks were running out of opportunities to launch another rally.
“We were very flat for seven innings tonight,” Larks manager Frank Leo said. “We didn’t do much right. We didn’t pitch it good, had a lot of easy roll-over outs, didn’t compete at the plate.
“But, you know, I felt like all we needed was a little spark somewhere for something to happen.”
The Larks finally found the spark in the eighth inning, tying the game with a five-run frame that was highlighted by a three-run double from Wyatt Divis.
Hays capped it off in walkoff fashion, taking a 9-8 win at home and completing a four-game sweep of the Mud Daubers after a wild ninth inning that saw three bang-bang plays go the Larks way.
Matt Cavanagh drove in the game-winning run with an infield single, scoring Jarrod Belbin. Cavanagh was originally ruled out at first base, but the call was overturned after a discussion between the two umpires.
The Larks, who improved to 18-4 on the season, trailed 6-0 after three and a half innings, 8-2 after five and half and still found themselves down 8-3 heading to the bottom of the eighth.
In the eighth, Cavanagh brought in Mikey Gangwish with a sacrifice fly. Drake Angeron then drew a walk to load the bases before Divis’ two-out hit skidded past the charging Mud Daubers center fielder, allowing Angeron to score from first base to bring the Larks within a run.
“With that at-bat, I was just trying to have a middle approach,” Divis said. “With all my other approaches, I’ve been trying to go away with it and I’m pulling off the ball. So I was like, I’m going to be aggressive here and hit the ball up the middle."
"When the game’s on the line, that’s the guy you want at the plate, and he barreled it,” Leo said of Divis.
Justin Lee then came through with an RBI single to score Divis and tie it up at 8.
Larks reliever Tommy Garcia kept the Mud Daubers off the board in the top of the ninth before an eventful bottom of the ninth.
Brook Brannon put the winning run in scoring position with a two-out double, sliding in to second safely in a close play. Belbin was inserted as a pinch runner.
Hernan Yanez then hit a grounder to the third, with Mud Daubers third baseman Jesus Rojas attempting to tag a sliding Belbin at third in another close play. Belbin was called safe, and Valley Center manager Andrew Laux was ejected arguing the call.
The game ended with another controversial call after Cavanagh was originally called out at first base and then deemed safe after the deliberation, resulting in an RBI single to bring home Belbin.
“They were aggressive plays,” Leo said. “The calls could have gone either way. Fortunately, tonight they went our way and we got a W out of it.”
Larks starter Michael Gilliland took a no-decision, giving eight runs (seven earned) in six innings.
Leo credited reliever Drew Marrufo and Garcia for helping give the Larks a chance to rally. Marrufo, returning from an injury, tossed a scoreless seventh inning and Garcia worked scoreless eighth and ninth frames.
“What was big was Drew Marrufo was back on the mound for the first time in about two and a half weeks and he looked good,” Leo said. “And Tommy Garcia has always been good for us.”
The Larks will now host a crucial Jayhawk West Division four-game series with Liberal, starting at 7 p.m. Friday. The Bee Jays took three out four from Hays last week.
“They were hard-fought games (in Liberal) and they were intense,” Divis said. “We just want to have good ABs and play really good defense. It will be very, very competitive this weekend.”