The Hays Larks finally made their long-awaited season debut, but now they’ll have to do a few more days of waiting before returning to action again.
The Larks swept a season-opening doubleheader against the Colorado Pirates on Saturday night at Larks Park, picking up a 10-0 run-rule win in their Rocky Mountain Baseball League debut before earning a 7-2 win in game two.
Sunday’s game against the Pirates was postponed because of rain and will be made up in Colorado at a date to be determined.
The Larks were scheduled to face the GameDay Saints on Monday and Tuesday at Larks Park, but those games were rescheduled because of travel issues for the Saints. The games will be moved to July 28 and 29.
The Larks are now set to play the Denver Cougars at 7 p.m. Thursday at Larks Park. They will play the Cougars again on Friday before facing the Colorado Springs Outlaws on Saturday and Sunday in Hays.
The Larks’ season was up in the air after a player tested positive for COVID-19 last Sunday. All the players were tested this week and the team ultimately decided to start the season after consultation with the Ellis County Health Department.
"Just great to be back out on the field," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "It’s been a long haul for them and kind of a stressful time for us this week. But we’re just excited that we got the all clear and got a chance to play baseball."
Even with all the uncertainty, Leo said the Larks are jelling together.
"They’re pulling together quickly as a team, and that’s important" Leo said. "Maybe the whole COVID thing helped do that.
"I don’t think we got a lot of thump in the lineup, but I just like their approach. They had some real good at-bats in key situations and that’s what this game is about."
Leo said the Larks also have good team speed. In particular, leadoff hitter Leo Jiminian, a France native who plays at Clarendon (Texas) Community College, has a knack for finding ways on base and is an explosive runner, Leo said.
"Jiminian is a great leadoff guy for us; he’s very quick," Leo said. "I thought it was a good lineup [Saturday]."
The Larks got rolling early against the Pirates, putting up eight runs in the first inning of the opener.
After the first two batters reached base, an RBI groundout from Grant Lung (University of Sioux Falls) put the Larks on the board, and Fort Hays State player Corbin Truslow followed with an RBI single.
The Larks went on to score six runs with two outs in the frame. Cam Pehrson (Cochise Community College) then drew a bases-loaded walk and Max McGuire (Doane College) brought in two more runs with a line-drive single.
Matt Cavanagh (UT-Arlington) delivered another two-run single, and Lung followed with an RBI single to cap off the huge inning. Hays later scored two runs off back-to-back wild pitches to force the run rule in the fifth.
"[Colorado starter Conner Flynn] had some control issues, but we capitalized. We got some big hits when we needed them," Leo said. "Kind of took the foot of the gas pedal a little bit but finished them off in five."
Third-year Lark Wyatt Divis (UT-Arlington) tossed four scoreless innings in the first game, and knuckleballer Rustin Hays tossed a scoreless fifth.
The Larks used five pitchers in the second game — Landon Schirer (Angelo State), Cole Zimmerman (FHSU), Ryan Ruder (FHSU), Drew Buhr (Saint Louis) and Jacob Ensz (FHSU).
"The tough thing about finishing (the first game in five innings), we’re trying to get pitchers their work in," Leo said. "When you get short a coupe of innings in game one, you’ve got to try and get it all done in game two. But we got in what we wanted to do in the doubleheader today."
After a brief storm in between games, the Larks again struck early, scoring two in the bottom of the first thanks to an RBI double from Cavanagh and a Pirates’ error.
The Pirates (1-9) knotted it up at 2 on Chase Dixon’s two-run single in the second inning. The Larks broke away with a five-run frame in the fourth. Palmer Hutchison’s sacrifice fly gave Hays a 3-2 lead before Cavanagh delivered his second RBI double of the game.
Truslow added an RBI single and Sean Cooper (Cochise CC) drove in two with a grounder through the middle for the game’s final runs.
Leo estimated the crowd at about 500 or 600 fans.
"It was tough for the crowd because, No. 1, it started at 6 o’clock," Leo said. "It’s a little bit hot, although tonight wasn’t a bad night. But I was very pleased with the crowd that came out. Of course, the rain in between games kind of hurt a little bit.
"We’re just happy to get on the field and give our fans some baseball."
The Larks roster is down to 20 players, four fewer than the team had planned on starting the season with. The player that tested positive last weekend has returned to his hometown, and Leo said three other players have decided to return home and not play this summer.
"The parents just wanted them to come home, and that’s understandable," Leo said. "This is such an unknown we’re going through right now. We’ve got to be cautious. We’re just taking care of ourselves right now. I told the team, our player safety is important. We’ve just got to take care of each other and do the right things."