Wyatt Divis felt primed for a strong senior season at the University of Texas at Arlington, impressing out of the bullpen before the pandemic brought everything to a halt.
After a long layoff, Divis is looking to use his third summer with the Hays Larks as an opportunity to regain his form from the brief spring season.
Divis tossed 16 scoreless innings in four relief outings for the Mavericks before the season was canceled. After the NCAA allowed for spring athletes to receive another year of eligibility, Divis is planning on heading back to UTA. He’ll be looking to compete for the closer’s job or a starting role.
"I was having a really good season and I was wanting to improve on it and everything," Divis said. "Then when we got the call saying that we could come back, I was like, ’I’m going to back, because I have to go back no matter what to finish school.’ So I was like, ’might as well finish school playing baseball.’ "
Divis, who notched 15 strikeouts in the shortened season at UTA, said he has learned to rely heavily on his best pitch, the slider.
"The biggest thing was in the fall we changed mechanical stuff," Divis said. "We worked on different techniques on how to deliver the pitch and everything. The coach told me, ’Your best pitch is the slider, so we need to work off the slider.’ At the start of the spring, we were throwing 85 percent sliders and just getting away with some fastballs. We saw (velocity jumps) and everything."
Divis is already 2-0 on the summer for the Larks. He stuck out eight in five shutout innings on Thursday against the Denver Cougars.
"I felt (Thursday) was a very good building block," Divis said. "There were some mechanical issues that we had, and there can be better location. But from the other night that I threw to tonight, there were some big changes. Everything was smoother. Velocity was better, command was better. I’m just going to keep trying to work on getting better command, so then everything flows."
Larks’ fans are well aware of Divis’ versatility, which helped him to get to the Division I level. Divis can also play in the infield or outfield.
"I see myself as I guy that can do both (pitching and hitting)," Divis said. "It just depends on the day and the role that I need to play. The biggest thing from junior college was that I can hit and pitch. At the Division I level, it’s about what role can I play to help the team win today."
Divis said he enjoys his summers in Hays.
"It’s been a fun time," Divis said. "When I come here, I know I’m going to get my innings in, and I know I’m going to get my at-bats in. I’d rather be here and enjoy life with everybody and the teammates that I get, instead of going to the Northwoods and playing 75-plus games and just be tired before I go back to school."
Larks’ manager Frank Leo said having Divis’ experience is a big luxury for the Larks.
"Wyatt competes," Leo said. "He’s starting to wear off on our guys. Our guys see how Wyatt competes, and I think they’re all going to start saying, ’Hey, we’re going to do the same thing."
The Larks made the Denver Cougars pay for control issues on the mound and miscues in the field Thursday night at Larks Park.
The Larks finished with nine hits, drew 10 walks and took advantage of five Denver errors, picking up a 9-2 win.
"We took advantage of what they gave us," Leo said. "They had some control issues, we took advantage of that. They kicked it around on defense, and we got the hits when we needed them.
"That’s what this ball club needs to do — be situational hitters. We did a good job tonight with that."
The Larks gave Divis run support early as Denver starter Adam Artis struggled to find his command. After Artis walked the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, the Larks got two runs after the Cougars’ shortstop threw the ball away on Cam Pehrson’s grounder.
Hays plated two more runs off a Cougars’ error in the third, and scored two more in the fourth, aided by another Denver error.
While Denver struggled defensively, the Larks were sharp in the field.
In what Leo called an ESPN highlight reel play, shortstop Matt Cavanagh went deep in the hole on a grounder to throw out a runner at first in the fourth inning. The Larks also threw out two runners at the plate on Thursday.
"I feel good about our defense," Leo said. "Our offense, we just need to get some more at-bats. It’s only game three. You got to remember, these guys did nothing this spring. It takes time to get back in the groove. But we barreled some good balls tonight, and hopefully we’ll continue to get better as we go."
"It’s a very good defensive team," Divis said. "Overall, we’re going to be a very good team. ... I will go to war with everybody on this team."
Larks catcher Max McGuire pushed the lead to 9-0 with a 3-run double in the sixth.
Brady Rose worked scoreless frames in the sixth and seventh for the Larks. Henry Peguero put the Cougars on the board with a two-run homer to left off Trey Riggs. Jacob Ensz got the final three outs in the ninth.
Hays High product Palmer Hutchison, who plays at Kansas City Kansas Community College, reached base five times for the Larks. He drew two walks, had one hit, was a hit by a pitch and reached on an error.
"I like Palmer’s game," Leo said. "He’s made the right steps going into college from high school. He seems very focused and very selective, and that’s what you got to be."
The Larks took their first loss of the young season Friday night, dropping a 4-2 decision to the Cougars at Larks Park.
The Larks (3-1) had nine hits but struggled to capitalize on opportunities, leaving nine on base.
Hays left the bases loaded in the fourth in a 1-1 game, and also left runners in scoring position in the fifth, sixth and eighth innings, suffering some tough luck at the plate.
"We had opportunities early against (Dylan) Munroe and we just couldn’t cash in," Leo said. "Baseball’s a funny game; sometimes you got to the ball to have some eyes to find that hole. That’s how (the Cougars) got their first two runs.
"We had some opportunities — we barreled the ball at those times; it wasn’t that we struck out. I thought we did battle good at the plate."
Denver took a 2-1 lead in the fifth after Cavanagh couldn’t come up with a tough chopper off the bat of Juan Familia.
The Cougars added insurance in the eighth when Braden Boisvert doubled to score two runs off Rustin Hays.
Larks catcher Jake Wyeth, with runners on first and second in the eight, doubled deep to center to score Wyatt Divis, but Corbin Truslow was thrown out at the plate to keep it a two-run run game.
"What Trus did, he hesitated a little bit, thought the guy was going to catch it," Leo said. "Took a step back, which broke his momentum. With a guy like Trus, you’ve got to get that momentum going.
"It was a little bit of a gamble on my part. I thought we had a chance. The kid threw a strike to the plate. If he doesn’t throw a strike to the plate, we’re probably safe. I thought that was a great at-bat by Jake Wyeth to barrel the ball and get us close."
Larks starter Zach Firmature (Hutchinson Community College) went three innings, allowing one run on three hits with two walks while striking out four.
"Firmature, he’s going to get better," Leo said. "His command wasn’t there, but he’s got enough stuff. He’s got a good fastball and good secondary stuff. Just couldn’t get ahead of hitters, and that’s the name of the game. But he minimized; they had a chance to put three or four up on the board. I thought we did a great job minimizing."
Drew Buhr allowed an unearned run in three innings of relief for the Larks. Rustin Hays gave up two runs in three innings.
Truslow went 3 for 4 at the plate while Wyeth had two doubles.
Ashton Wetzler tossed four innings in relief to earn the win for Denver.
The Larks were set to play the Colorado Springs Outlaws on Saturday night and will close out the two-game set at 7 p.m. Sunday at Larks Park.