Some players volunteer for above-and-beyond duty when a baseball game approaches, then reaches, 17 innings. Some players just do what they know.
Jacob Boston hits. It doesn’t matter if a pitcher on the opposing team is playing left field or if one of his own pitchers is greatly exceeding his typical usage.
Boston’s RBI single in the top of the 17th put Hays ahead of the Kansas Stars in the semifinals of the National Baseball Congress World Series late Friday night. The Larks added two more runs and defeated the Stars 9-6 at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Hays advances to Saturday night’s championship game, which happens about 17 hours after its semifinal victory ended. The Larks have never won an NBC championship and have finished second four times. Hays will face the winner of the second semifinal between Santa Barbara and San Diego.
After the game, Stars infielder Jack Wilson, a former Hays player, huddled the Larks to congratulate them and wish them luck in Saturday’s game.
“When I went over to talk to Coach (Frank) Leo, he told me, ‘I’m putting it in your hands,’ ” Boston said. “That’s what I wanted. I didn’t want to bunt him over, I wanted to come up with a big hit. He threw me a fastball and I just did what I do best – hit the ball.”
Hays eliminated the Stars a team of former major-league players and the story of the tournament, and the Larks may now own that distinction. In Thursday’s quarterfinals they defeated Fairbanks, Alaska, a team with an NBC-record six championships, before ousting the tournament’s most star-studded team.
But Friday’s win took a while. Both teams squandered scoring chances in extra innings on baserunning mistakes, poor situational hitting or clutch pitching from the opposition.
Hays scored six runs in the first three innings, then went 13 innings without a run.
Daniel James took the mound in the 10th inning then patiently waited for Hays’ offense to match his timeliness.
“We’ve been hitting pretty well all tournament,” James said. “It had to have happened sooner or later. I just needed to keep doing my jobs and keep throwing strikes.”
James pitched so long that the natural assumption that he would have otherwise been saved to start Hays’ Saturday game.
“Actually, I’m the closer,” James said.
He lived up to the definition but far surpassed the job’s usual duties. This spring as a sophomore at Texas-Arlington, James pitched more than two innings in one of his 23 appearances and never threw more than 33 pitches.
To get Hays into Saturday’s championship, James never stopped pitching. He worked eight innings and threw 100 pitches.
“That was the most pitches I’ve thrown in a couple years,” James said. “… Up until probably about the 12th, I was throwing and then (the Stars) got the bases loaded (in the 14th ) and I got out of it. That’s when the adrenaline kicked in and it took off from there.
“Every time one of those guys stepped in the box I was like, ‘Oh, man. This is a big name and he can do some damage.’ I just did my best.”
The Stars could relate to asking for more from their players. When they ran out of position players in extra innings, Jason Marquis, a pitcher, played left field. When Marquis came in to pitch, he was replaced in left by Brad Penny, another pitcher.
While the Stars’ offense was rallying from a 6-0 deficit, Brian Gordon shut down Hays with 4 2/3 scoreless innings. Brett Tomko and Justin Germano each pitched multiple scoreless innings to keep it tied.
“It’s pretty cool when you’ve got guys who have been retired for a while to still have that fire,” said Stars first baseman Adam LaRoche, who helped organize the team. “To go out and have pitchers throw three or four more innings than they were probably ready for.
“Guys with no intention of playing or pitching today volunteering to go out there to give us a chance to win, it’s pretty special.”
The Stars’ chances seemed slim when they fell behind 6-0. They scored four in the sixth, one in the eighth and tied it on Jayson Nix’s two-out RBI double in the bottom of the ninth. Nix was thrown out trying to stretch for a triple.
With two pitchers in the lineup, the Stars couldn’t muster any more offense. Hays found just enough.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to go 17 innings against anyone but the major-league team,” Boston said. “It was fun. It was a blast.”
9 16 1
6 11 4
W — James. L — Marquis.
Hays batting – Burns 5-9, Olinger 1-9, O’Brien 2-7, Miouduszewski, Weiss 0-7, Boston 4-7, McKenzie 0-4, Cornell 0-0, Waller 0-3, Redington 1-6, Ross 2-7.
Hays pitching – Curtis 5 IP-3 ER, Leiker 1/3-0, Schwaner 2/3-0, Brown 1 2/3-1, Smith 1 1/3-1, James 8-0.
Stars batting – Orr 2-7, Wilson 0-6, Inge 1-7, LaRoche 1-6, J. Nix 2-8, Drew 2-5, Penny 0-1, Hill 0-6, Langerhans 1-4, Marquis 0-3, Kohlmeier 0-0, L. Nix 0-1, Wesson 2-5.
Stars pitching – Hudson 2 1/3-5, Gordon 4 2/3-0, Bell 1-0, Tomko 2-0, Germano 3-0, Marquis 3-1, Kohlmeier 1-0.