Tennessee players help bolster Larks

Rick Peterson Jr.
Hays Daily News
Cortland Lawson trots to home plate after hitting his second home run during the Hays Larks' 21-2 win over the Colorado Sox on Saturday at Larks Park.

Less than 24 hours after arriving in Hays, Cortland Lawson was already making his presence felt in a big way for the Larks. 

Lawson, who just completed his sophomore season at the University of Tennessee, got into town about 8 p.m. Friday. 

By Saturday night, he was clubbing home runs out of Larks Park, helping fuel a 21-2 win over the Colorado Sox. 

Lawson hit two of the Larks' five home runs on Saturday. Grant Lung also homered twice and had five hits while Sam Crowell delievered a 3-run shot. 

"It felt great," Lawson said of his Larks' debut. "First day out here, didn't know what to expect. Great crowd. I just wanted to show them what I had, and that's what I did."

Fellow Tennessee Volunteer Jake Fitzgibbons earned the win on the mound on Saturday, allowing two runs in five innings. 

Lawson and Fitzgibbons saw action on a Tennessee squad that is coming off a breakthrough season, going 50-18 and reaching the College World Series. 

"It was surreal," said Lawson, a native of Potomac Falls, Va. "Probably one of the best baseball years of my career. The fans were behind us and all the players just fought. We made a good run and I love all the guys that are on the team.

"I expect us to be right in the same spot next year and the years after that."

Lawson also enjoyed his first taste of Larks' baseball.

"I was told by a couple people that the tradition was really good and the crowds are pretty good, but I didn't expect it was going to be like this. This is awesome," he said. 

In his first at-bat on Saturday, Lawson homered to left field for a solo shot. The infielder later hit a two-run shot to left in the fourth. 

"He was shaking a lot, so I thought off-speed first, but he got behind in the count so I was like, 'All right, I'm going to sit on fastball here,' and that's what I got," Lawson said of the first at-bat. "Second one, I was just sitting heater the whole time because I noticed he couldn't land the breaking ball. Hit that one better than the first one."

Fitzgibbons, a left hander from Mount Juliet, Tenn., gave up five hits and three walks while striking out eight on Saturday.

"Great job by Fitzgibbons," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "We keep building on his pitch count and he got to 90 for us. He's going to be a good one for us. He can minimize a little bit, he might get us six or seven innings. Ninety pitches is about the limit we want to keep him at."

Lawson appeared in 13 games for the Volunteers this past season, getting five hits in 14 at-bats. Fitzgibbons threw 8.2 innings for Tennessee last season, allowing eight runs

The Larks also have a future Tennessee Volunteer in Dylan Dreiling, who will join the program after completing his senior season at Hays High next year. 

"I actually hit with him earlier (Saturday), we went to the cages," Lawson said. "He's a cool dude. He has a lot of potential. I'm excited to see what he can do for the Vols."

Leo said Lawson and Fitzgibbons will be big assets for the Larks. 

"They're going to bring that experience (from Tennessee) to us and the competitiveness," Leo said. "And you know, that's going to wear off on everybody and it's going to make us a stronger club."

The Larks finished with 17 hits on Saturday including eight that went for extra bases. 

"Hitting is contagious," Leo said. "Guys get it started, they all start feeling comfortable. The ball seems to get bigger and bigger as the game drags on."

Lung, who just finished his redshirt junior season at the University of Sioux Falls, had two homers, two doubles and a single on Saturday.

"How about Grant Lung tonight?" Leo said. "He was on fire. I think that looked like a beach ball every time he put a swing on it."

The Colorado Sox bounced back to take a 6-3 win over the Larks on Sunday. The Larks (12-3) were set to play a non-league game with the Junction City Brigade on Monday at Larks Park.