Clutch hitting and a quality start from Michael Gilliland helped fuel a strong bounce-back performance for the Hays Larks on Sunday night against Liberal.
The Larks assured themselves at least a split in the four-game series by posting a 7-4 victory over the Bee Jays at Larks Park.
Hays, which recovered from Saturday’s 11-1 loss, was set to go for the series win on Monday night. Sunday's win put the Larks back in first place by a game in the Kansas Collegiate League Jayhawk West Division with a 7-4 mark in division play.
“It was a big-time response,” Larks manager Frank Leo said. “We knew that game (Saturday night) blew up on us. We didn’t have enough firepower to try and shut them down. We had to let that one go and prepare (for Sunday), and it worked out.”
The Larks (20-5 overall) gave Gilliland a cushion early, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first inning to answer a Bee Jays' run in the top of the first.
Alex Strachan scored George Suthlerland on an RBI single for the Larks first run. Jarrod Belbin also delivered a run-scoring single and Brook Brannon brought in another run with a groundout.
Sutherland came through with a two-run single in the second, and Strachan made it 6-1 with a double in the fourth.
“Hitting’s all about hitting when you need to, and we got some good, clutch hits tonight,” Leo said of the Larks’ 10-hit attack. “You can put up 20 hits but it doesn’t matter if you’re not getting them in the clutch. Tonight we got those big hits.”
Gilliland (Jacksonville State) capped off his solid night by coming through in a key spot with the Larks holding a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh. He escaped a bases-loaded jam by striking out Liberal's Cayde Ward.
“Ward’s a big-time hitter. He’s a tough guy to strike out,” Leo said. “I’m guessing that maybe he was sitting on a fastball, and Mike threw him one of his better sliders and froze him. That was an outstanding pitch on his part.”
Gilliland gave up two runs and scattered nine hits with just one walk in seven innings to earn the win.
“Exactly what we needed,” Leo said. "We needed somebody to go deep today.”
The Larks were forced to do some shuffling early in the game. With Wyatt Divis already out sick, infielder Matt Cavanagh left the game in the first inning due to sickness.
The changes included bringing Mikey Gangwish into catch and moving Hernan Yanez over to second base.
“Cavanagh is Divis’ roommate; they both got strep,” Leo said. “(Cavanagh) came in after the first inning and was real light-headed and dizzy. We had to scamper, and of course, who do we go to but our Mr. Versatility, Hernan Yanez.”
Drew Marrufo worked the last two innings for the Larks. He gave up two runs in the ninth before notching a strike out with the potential tying run at the plate to end the game.