WICHITA — The Cheney Diamond Dawgs averted a late-inning disaster to claim a 2-1 win over the Hays Larks on Thursday in the consolation quarterfinals of the 86th National Baseball Congress World Series at Eck Stadium in Wichita.
"I knew it was going to be a tough game," Cheney manager Pat Hon said. "You don’t see a three-quarter knuckle baller that often. I don’t know how you prepare for that. He did a great job. Everybody knows Hays’ tradition and how good they are."
"It was that kind of a game," Hays manager Frank Leo said. "I thought we barreled some balls. We had one with two outs to left field that I thought was going to get through. We got good at bats with runners in scoring position. We just hit it at them. We didn’t get that one between them."
Cheney will play either the Santa Barbara Foresters or Liberal BeeJays at 6 p.m. Saturday at Eck Stadium in the championship semifinals. The championship games are 6 and 8:30 p.m. Monday.
"I don’t know how much of a reward it is," Hon said. "Both these teams are extremely good. Liberal has really good pitching. We haven’t see Santa Barbara, but they are here every year. We’ll see who we play and try to do our best."
Cheney reaches the semifinals for the second straight year.
In the top of the ninth, Brennen van Breusegen was hit by a pitch and went to second on a Dylan Dreiling sacrifice bunt. Sean Cooper hit an infield fly ball that landed for a single. Van Breusegen was caught in a run down, but was able to safely get back to second base. A ground out to third base and a strikeout ended the game.
Jeff Wilson pitched the last two outs for the save.
"We limited it," Wilson said. "We didn’t let hit get to third and that kept the double play alive. It’s better than trying to make a crazy play happen. I just needed a grounder. I went fastball and had a hard slider. I just worked a good one.
"I was just feeling a little under the weather," Wilson said. "Nothing too serious. Just a little tired. I’m not going to quit on my guys. It was definitely scary. You try to play every game like it’s your last."
"The closer in there has been sick the last two or three days," Hon said. "He was sick enough that he got tested (for COVID-19). Luckily, he came back negative. I didn’t know how much he had in the tank. In that situation, he’s the one I want out there."
Chandler Arnold went five innings for the Dawgs, allowing a run on five hits wth a walk and four strikeouts. Colin Sells pitched 3.1 innings for the win, striking out three.
Rustin Hays pitched 5.1 innings for the Larks, allowing a run on three hits with four walks and four strikeouts. Drew Buhr finished the game for the loss, allowing a run on two hits with a walk and two strikeouts.
"I expected it to be a pitcher’s duel tonight," Leo said. "It was going to be a close game. We knew we had to take advantage of something. … I’m not disappointed in our guys’ effort. We went up against good pitching, and you’re not going to get a lot of opportunities."
Cheney was outhit 8-5. Hays left nine runners on base, while Cheney left eight.
"We were so worried about the knuckleballer and how we were going to approach it," Hon said. "We worried about it too much instead of going on hitting."
With two outs in the top of the fourth, Cam Pehrson doubled to right field and scored on a Corbin Truslow single. For Cheney in the bottom of the fourth, Jackson Glenn singled, went to second on a bunt and scored on a David Sims single.
Cheney loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the sixth, but a strikeout and a pop out ended the threat.
In the bottom of the seventh, Cheney took its first lead when Ed Scott singled, went to second on a bunt and scored on a George Specht single.
Hays will play Friday in an elimination game against either the Hutchinson Monarchs or the Hattiesburg Black Sox.
"We’re going to be out here to play," Leo said. "These guys don’t have anything to go back to. Things are getting closed off for school. I told them, ‘Every chance you get to cross the white line, do it.’ We’ll try to get it done the next game."