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Larks clinch RMBL title

Rick Peterson Jr.
rpeterson@dailynews.net
Palmer Hutchison reacts after scoring the winning run for the Hays Larks on Friday night against the Denver Cougars.

After being shut down at the plate for seven innings by the Denver Cougars, the Hays Larks rallied late to wrap up the Rocky Mountain Baseball League title in dramatic fashion on Friday night at Larks Park.

The Larks trailed 3-0 after seven innings and were down two entering the bottom of the ninth before plating three runs to take a 4-3 walkoff win.

Hays was no-hit by Denver pitcher Caleb Miley for six innings. The Larks scratched out a run in the eighth and put their first four batters on base in the ninth.

Grant Lung drew a bases-loaded walk to bring the Larks within a run, and Max McGuire followed with an RBI sacrifice fly to tie it at 3.

Sean Cooper’s squeeze bunt then brought home Palmer Hutchison for the winning run to extend the Larks’ winning streak to seven.

“We hadn’t used that safety squeeze at all this year,” Larks manager Frank Leo said. “That was the right time, right combination, and it worked.”

The win gave the Larks a three-and-a-half-game lead over the Cougars and GameDay Saints in the RMBL standings with three league games left, allowing the Larks to clinch the RMBL title in their first year in the league.

By winning the league, the Larks will receive an automatic berth to the National Baseball Congress World Series, Aug. 3 through 10 in Hutchinson and Wichita.

“It’s a good, tough league,” Leo said. “We had to battle. It’s always nice to win a league title, particularly at home in the manner we did it in.”

The Larks (20-6) didn’t get their first hit until Cameron Pehrson’s single in the seventh inning. They got on the board in the eighth to make it 3-1.

Denver, aided by a Larks error, got all three of their runs in the top of the second.

Leo credited pitchers Drew Buhr and Jacob Ensz for keeping the Larks within striking distance. Buhr gave up one earned run in five innings, while Ensz tossed four scoreless innings.

“We stayed close,” Leo said. “Drew, he gave up a tough three-spot on the error, but then he threw up zeroes. And then Jacob Ensz comes in and keeps us at three. If you can stay within three, anything can happen.”

Cameron Pehrson was hit by a pitch to lead off the bottom of the ninth and Corbin Truslow followed with a single. The runners moved to second and third after a wild pitch.

“When we get the first two guys on base with nobody out and we can go to the sac game to try and tie it, I thought we had a chance,” Leo said. “The wild pitch gave us even more of a chance. We didn’t have to do the sac bunt anymore, we had a chance to swing away and tie with a swing.”

Hutchison slid home safely on the safety squeeze after Cooper laid down the bunt.

“(Hutchison) knows I like to use that, he’s one of my Hays High guys,” Leo said. “Coop put down a good bunt, the pitcher kind of panicked a bit and we got a W.”

Miley went 7.1 innings for the Cougars, allowing a run on two hits with three walks while striking out six.

The Larks were set to face the Cougars Saturday night in another league game before closing out the series in a non-league game against Denver on Sunday. Sunday’s game starts at 6 p.m.

Next week, the Larks will close out the regular season with home games against the GameDay Saints on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Larks sweep RoughRiders

Pitching and defense shined again for the Hays Larks as they completed a three-game sweep of the Colorado RoughRiders with a 4-1 victory on Thursday night at Larks Park.

After three straight shutout victories, the Larks pitching kept the RoughRiders in check again. Knuckleballer Rustin Hays gave the Larks six strong innings. Fort Hays State’s Paddy Walsh threw two scoreless innings before Zach Firmature closed it out in the ninth.

Matt Cavanagh provided a couple highlight-reel plays at shortstop, and Jake Wyeth threw out a runner in a key spot to help key a strong defensive showing.

“We’ve been pitching it good, No. 1, and when you pitch it good you’ve got good opportunities to win a ballgame,” Leo said. “Defense has been good. Matt Cavanagh, he’s just a magician in the middle.

“When you got a defense like that, and the pitchers throw strikes, that’ll give you an opportunity to win every night out.”

The Larks took a three-run lead into the ninth before the RoughRiders briefly threatened to rally. Brady Strickert led off with a double and Josh Smith followed with a single to put runners at the corners.

Wyeth, a standout catcher who is headed to LSU, changed the complexion of the inning when he threw out Smith attempting to steal second base. Firmature then notched back-to-back strikeouts to seal it.

“(Wyeth’s) not going to LSU because he can’t play this game; he’s a tremendous catcher with a great arm,” Leo said. “That was a great pop time; I’m saying it had to be a 1.8 (seconds). Big play, big turning point right there.”

Rustin Hays allowed one run and four hits while striking out seven and not giving up a walk.

“He had the knuckle ball working; sevens Ks,” Leo said. “The big thing with Rustin tonight, no walks. When he has command like that, he’s awful tough.”

Walsh worked around three hits in his two innings to keep the RoughRiders (13-14) off the board in the seventh and eighth.

“He made pitches when he had to, and it was the breaking pitch that froze the hitters,” Leo said. “Hitters expected fastballs, and he had confidence enough in that breaking pitch.”

Pehrson doubled in Cavanagh to put the Larks on the board in the first. Cavanagh delivered a two-run single in the third and Hutchison had a sacrifice fly to score Wyatt Divis in the fifth.

Both teams finished with nine hits.

“We haven’t been a great offensive club as far as putting a lot of runs on the board against decent pitching,” Leo said. “But we’re doing the things we need to do; we’re scoring runs, just doing enough, so to speak, to win a ballgame. We’re relying on our pitching and defense to kind of hold somebody else down and try to just put enough on the board to get a W.”

Hays Larks players celebrate after earning a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Denver Cougars on Friday night at Larks Park.