STORY BY TRISTAN SASSE
PHOTO BY JUNWEN SU
Stay tuned later this week for more photos and a video recap of this game.
Coming off a third-place finish at the 2017 national tournament, the Hays Larks began the 2018 season on Friday, June 1, from Larks Park in Hays, Kansas. The Larks hosted the Denver Cougars to begin their trek for a chance at the NBC World Series. A back-and-forth matchup throughout, the Larks overcame a two-run extra inning deficit to come back for a 6-5 walk-off win in the bottom of the twelfth inning by infielder Devin Hager.
Larks Pitcher Nick Skeffington struggled early by allowing a lead-off walk and following it with a wild pitch. The Cougars took an early 1-0 lead after a sacrifice fly by Steven Rivera-Chijin, but a pair of strikeouts by Skeffington stopped the damage. Hays responded by Kolby Robinson getting on base by a Denver error, but he was stranded after stealing a base and a fielder’s choice advanced him to third.
Skeffington rebounded in the second inning by retiring the side. Javis Steward answered for the Cougars and allowed no hits in the bottom of the inning.
In the third, Skeffington continued to heat up by striking out the side. Michael Anastasia and Hager had back-to-back singles to begin the bottom of the third. After a sacrifice bunt by Robinson, the Larks stranded two in scoring position and trailed 1-0 after three.
Pitching success continued for Skeffington, making easy work of the batting order and ending the top half of the inning with a 5-4-3 double play. Hays followed by advancing the first two batters into scoring position. A sacrifice fly in foul territory by John Renzel, Jr. evened the score. Cole Solomon gave the Larks its first lead with the second straight sacrifice fly. Hays held a 2-1 lead after four.
The Larks had a pitching substitution and brought Sloan Baker to the mound for the top of the fifth. Baker allowed a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases. Matthew Sanchez helped the Cougars regain the lead with a two-out, two-RBI single, and Denver led 3-2 after the top of the fifth.
Hays tied up the game in the bottom half of the inning with a single from Wyatt Divis which brought Ryne Randle home from second.
In the top of the sixth, Baker retired the side. Moments later, Renzel gave the Larks the first extra-base hit on the night with a one-out triple. After a walk to Michael Anastasia, Hays was unable to capitalize and stranded runners on the corners.
Another pitching change occurred at the beginning of the seventh when Fabian Muniz made his appearance on the mound. In timely fashion, Muniz retired the side. The Larks followed by Divis hitting a single, but he was stranded on-base.
Muniz made quick work of the Cougars in the top of the eighth and ended the inning with a double play. Neither team was able to threaten in the eighth, and the score was tied at three heading into the ninth inning.
The top of the ninth was followed by another shutout inning by Muniz. Moments later, the Larks brought Anastasia into scoring position after a wild pitch and sacrifice bunt but stranded him at third base to send the game into extra innings.
Once again, Muniz continued to dominate the Cougars lineup, with three straight outs. Denver brought in Luke Baley with a pitching substitution, as he allowed a lead-off walk and a single to start the inning. Hays was unable to advance the runners and left two on-base due to three straight outs.
To begin the eleventh, the Larks brought in Toby Scoles from the bullpen. Scoles walked the first two batters, and a wild pitch advanced both runners in scoring position. A sacrifice fly by Mike Coletta gave the Cougars a 4-3 eleventh inning lead and Kyle Robbins brought home another run with a single to left field.
Going into the bottom of the eleventh inning, the Larks trailed 5-3. Robinson hit a single and Randle hit a double, and pinch hitter Daryl Myers hit a two-out ground rule double to tie the game at five. Matt Munoz struck out to end the eleventh and Hays stranded another two runners on-base.
Scoles found a rhythm in the twelfth by striking out two batters and grounding out the third. For Denver, Baley allowed a lead-off walk and the Cougars called Ryan Hendrix up from the bullpen. Renzel Jr. advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and to third on a wild pitch. Hager ended the marathon with a walk-off single to deep center field, to give the Larks a 6-5 win.
By the Numbers
On the night, the Larks racked up 14 hits compared to Denver’s seven.
For Hays, Skeffington pitched four innings allowing one earned run and two hits while striking out seven. Baker, Muniz, and Scoles pitched in relief, giving up a combined five hits and two earned runs over eight innings. Muniz allowed no hits and two walks over four innings during that stretch.
For Denver, Steward went six innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs while striking out four. Four other pitchers combined for the final six innings, allowing eight hits and three earned runs.
The Larks (1-0) will be back in action from Larks Park today against the Colorado Sox. Meanwhile, Denver (0-1) will travel to Mountain Vista to take on the Foxes.