Hays leveled the playing field at the NBC World Series in a most unexpected way.
The Larks run-ruled defending champion Santa Barbara (Calif.) 8-0 in seven innings on Thursday at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium, benefiting from a miserable pitching performance from the Foresters and a superb one from Larks starter Shawn Lewick.
The rest of the field can thank the Larks for removing the unbeaten tag from the Foresters. The Hays win means Saturday’s final will be a winner-take-all game and all four remaining teams need two wins. The Foresters missed a chance to take Friday off and return Saturday knowing its opponent must sweep a doubleheader. Hays won its sixth straight elimination game after losing its opener on July 30.
“You lose the first one and it kind of sets a tone and makes you realize something,” Lewick said. “What fun is it if you win every single game, right?”
Hays enjoyed a lot of fun at the expense of Foresters pitchers, who surrended only six hits. They walked 12, hit three batters and uncorked three wild pitches. The Foresters, three-time champions, usually bring a deep pitching staff to the NBC and outlast the field. On Thursday, the Foresters tried five pitchers with little success and ended a 12-game NBC win streak. It was their worst NBC loss since an 11-1 defeat to the Maxim (Calif.) Yankees in 2007.
“Our pitchers didn’t have good command,” Foresters coach Bill Pintard said. “And that is out of the ordinary. I don’t know if our guys are trying to do too much, or what.”
Santa Barbara’s poor aim stood in sharp contrast to Lewick, who held the Foresters to three hits, struck out eight and didn’t allow a runner to second base until the seventh inning. Lewick, a Fort Hays State graduate, started the summer with Hays, pitched one game for the Wichita Wingnuts, and returned to the Larks for the NBC.
“My curveball and my slider were working real well,” he said. “I started working my changeup in the later innings. I didn’t show it in the first half.”
The Foresters didn’t reach base until Lewick gave up a two-out single in the third. He retired them in order four times and didn’t walk a batter until the seventh. Pintard said the accuracy of his curveball kept the Foresters from getting good swings and made his fastball away more effective.
“He was throwing glove strikes with the curveball,” Pintard said. “It wasn’t that we were chasing them. He was plopping them in there.”.
Hays batted around in the first inning, helped by all manner of shakiness by the Foresters. Starter Jared Wilson couldn’t field a bunt after a leadoff single, which started the disaster in motion.
The Larks led 2-0 when Santa Barbara self-destructed with two outs. Joe Betcher lofted a flyball to left. Arby Fields motioned with his arms to indicate he couldn’t see the ball in the lights. The ball landed about 10 yards from Fields, in between himself and the center fielder. Two runs scored and Betcher reached second base. Wilson walked the next batter to load the bases and end his night. Reliever Willie Kuhl hit Aaron Cornell to force in a run and give Hays a 5-0 lead.
“The bunt that Jared couldn’t play cleanly … it’s amazing in an 8-0 game that little play early in the first inning imploded on us,” Pintard said. “Then we had a high sky. We couldn’t find the ball. And that fell in on us.”
The Foresters melted down again in the fourth and were fortunate to escape with a three-run debit. Three pitchers combined to walk four batters and hit another. The Larks needed one hit in the inning to build their lead to 8-0. For the Foresters, the low point hit when Andrew Vasquez walked three of the four batters he faced, throwing eight straight balls before his night ended.
“You don’t know if those chances are going to happen, but it set up pretty good for us and we capitalied,” Hays coach Frank Leo said. “We feel fortunate tonight. We caught them in a good spot.”