'He was the man tonight': FHSU pitcher Hunter Parker dazzles on mound for Larks
Hunter Parker wasn't going to let a brief moment of pain derail what turned out to be one of the more impressive pitching performances in recent Hays Larks' history.
Parker was in the midst of a gem when he took a hard-hit groundball to his left knee in the fourth inning of Tuesday's game against the Fort Collins Foxes at Larks Park.
Parker fell to the ground in agony, but after taking a few moments to shake it off, remained in the game and picked up where he left off.
He proceeded to toss the Larks' first nine-inning, complete-game shutout in five years as Hays completed a four-game sweep of the Fort Collins Foxes with an 8-0 win on Tuesday at Larks Park.
"Very painful," Parker said of the shot to the knee. "Shook it off a little bit and the adrenaline took over, and I got through it."
"After the sting of it wore off, he said 'I'm good to go,' and he finished the job," Larks manager Frank Leo said.
Parker threw an efficient 96 pitches and didn't allow a walk. He scattered seven hits and struck out five to help the Larks notch their eighth straight win.
"That's the first time I've ever done anything like that," Parker said of the complete-game shutout. "Honestly, the key was just staying within myself and throwing it over the plate at the knees."
Parker rarely was in trouble on Tuesday. The Foxes threatened to end the shutout in the ninth but Parker stranded a runner at third base and ended the game with a strikeout.
"He was in command. He was feeling it," Leo said. "It's fun to see a pitcher pitch the way he did, trusting all of his pitches and staying ahead of all of the hitters.
"He was the man tonight. He deserves all of the accolades. He put us on his back and he got us the sweep."
It was the third straight strong outing for Parker. The right hander tossed five scoreless innings in a no-decision against the Junction City Brigade on June 28. He threw six innings against the Brigade on July 7, allowing three runs to take another no-decision.
"It's about the mental-mindset game with me," Parker said. "I'm more of a mental pitcher. I can get into my head pretty easily, and it's even harder to get out of it. But once I got out of it, I found my groove and I stayed in it."
"He's earned everything he's getting," Leo said. "He's worked hard at it. He's trusting himself, he's pitching with a lot of confidence, and that's a big part of the game."
Parker, entering his senior season at Fort Hays State, said he became more confident as the season went on last spring. He earned wins and went at least six innings in four of his last five starts as a junior for the Tigers.
"It's all about comfort for me," Parker said. "I got more comfortable toward the end, and I was able to show that."
He said he's enjoying the chance to stay in Hays and play for the Larks this summer.
"I love this town," Parker said. "I'm used to the field, I'm used to everything else. It's great. I love Hays."
The Larks (20-4, 10-2 RMBL) flashed the leather on Wednesday, turning in several highlight-reel plays defensively.
"Our defense the last couple nights was really good," Leo said. "Palmer Hutchison (at third base) plays that slow roller very well. Cam Pehrson, playing second base, made some great plays. Grant Schmidt was out in right field running into walls and catching balls. I think that's a little bit of Leo Jiminian from the other night wearing off on this ball club — 'Hey guys, let's give it our all.' "
Sam Crowell homered for the Larks and Cortland Lawson had three hits.
The four-game sweep puts the Larks in the driver's seat to win their second straight Rocky Mountain Baseball League title.
"It was our first big challenge of the year," Leo said. "I told the guys when it was over 'This is what we brought you to Hays for, to win league championships and get into the NBC and do some damage down there.'
"They took a huge step."
The Larks will host a two-game set against a non-league team from Oklahoma City on Friday and Saturday.
They will then return to league play next week for four games in three days against the Colorado Roughriders, starting with a single game on Monday. A doubleheader will be played Tuesday, followed by another single game on Wednesday.
"We'll still nurse our guys that are still injured a little bit and keep them healthy," Leo said. "... We'll get our pitchers some work, get our hitters some ABs and tune up for a big four-game series in three days next week."
Military Appreciation Night on Saturday
The Larks will host their 12th annual Military Appreciation Night on Saturday against Oklahoma City. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.
All active, reserve and retired military personnel are especially invited and will be honored on the field during pregame ceremonies.
Military personnel will also be recognized after the sixth inning and before he singing of “God Bless America."
Military personnel in attendance should check in at the east side of the grandstand by 6:45 p.m. Saturday evening. Fans are encouraged to be in the park by 6:50 p.m.
The ceremonies will feature recognition of all military personnel in attendance, a Color Guard and the National Anthem sung live by Uncalled-4. Patriotic music will be played throughout the evening and the park will be decorated in red, white and blue with flags lining the park courtesy of American Legion Riders Post #173 of Hays. The game is sponsored by Kiwanis Club of Hays, Hays VFW Post #9076, and Scott's Home Renovations.
Admission to all Larks' games is free.
"It's always one of the most special nights of the summer," Leo said of Military Appreciation Night. "The ball park gets decorated up. We honor the veterans and the current people in the armed forces for what they do for our country. It's something that we can't let slip away."