Frank Leo put in his fastest player to pinch run in the bottom of the ninth and, as he tells it, the Hays manager “got greedy.”
On the brink of tying Greeley anyway, the Hays coach attempted to expediate the process by trying to score Tito Andino from second on a single to shallow left field with no outs.
Andino had just reached third by the time Eric Ferguson got the ball, and Ferguson’s throw easily nabbed Andino, helping the Grays upset the Larks 2-1 in the first round of the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Hays managed a runner into scoring position after Andino was thrown out, but Austin Darby was stranded at second and Leo was left to second-guess himself.
“It’s a gamble,” Leo said. “You have to make a pretty quick decision and I was hoping maybe (Ferguson) would bobble it on the pickup. With nobody out, it’s the wrong decision.”
Leo’s call wasn’t the first by either manager in the bottom of the ninth that could have backfired. Greeley starter Bo McLavey cruised into the ninth at 81 pitches, but his 82nd turned into a double off the wall by Mackenzie Handel.
McLavey had worked out of trouble before, but Grays coach John Barnes immediately went to the bullpen, calling on Chris Hammer to preserve McLavey’s win.
He did so, but not without a threat by Hays, which won the Jayhawk League behind the strength of its offense and had been held to one run only one other time during the summer. McLavey, watching from the dugout, eventually found solace in his exit.
“It was great watching (Andino) get thrown out,” McLavey said.
Hays didn’t recover after committing three errors in the first inning that led to a pair of unearned runs. The errors happened on consecutive plays, and Hays even botched a chance to reverse its mistakes when it failed to record an out on what appeared to be a double play.
McLavey made those runs stand. The right-hander worked from a variety of release points, including an oft-used submarine style, and though Hays notched seven hits against him, the Larks only got one runner to third base.
“I don’t know if we were nervous early or what it was,” Darby said. “Maybe jitters early but I think we settled in. We made the plays we needed to, we just didn’t hit the ball when we needed to.”
Darby hit what was initially ruled a home run in the sixth on a ball that appeared to bounce over the right-field wall. After an umpires’ conference, Darby was sent back to second with two outs.
Hays got at least one hit in six innings, and Larks starter Justin Ziegler essentially matcher McLavey pitch for pitch. But while Hays was unable to limit its mistakes — including mental mistakes — Greeley made no such miscues and McLavey held off the Larks’ usually potent offense.
“It’s nice to get earned runs, but I just battled with what I had,” McLavey said. “I just came out to compete. I don’t try to have any secrets.”