WICHITA — Suffering back-to-back losses for the first time this summer, the Hays Larks were knocked out of the National Baseball Congress World Series with a 9-6 loss to the San Diego Stars in the final game of pool play on Tuesday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Hays, the Jayhawk League champions, ended the season at 35-12, going 1-2 in their pool for the tournament.
"Not a night we want to remember for the kind of season this ball club had," Larks manager Frank Leo said.
The Larks were plagued by a five-run first inning that saw starter Fabian Muniz surrender four walks before giving up a grand slam to Tristan Salinas. Muniz gave up a solo home run to Henry Gonzales in the second before exiting the game with the Larks trailing 6-0.
"We talked about how to pitch the Salinas kid. You can't give him a fastball," Leo said. "We gave in on a full count because we didn't trust our off-speed stuff, and he hits the grand slam that really kind of set the tone for this ball game.
"Our guys, we didn't get after it today, although we did have a lot of fight toward the end of the game."
The Larks cut the lead to 6-2 in the fourth after an RBI groundout from John Rensel Jr. and an RBI single from Clayton Rasbeary. But the Stars broke it open with three runs in the sixth to push the lead to 9-2, giving the Larks’ their biggest deficit of the summer.
Walter Pennington replaced Muniz on the mound and also struggled with his command, walking three and recording just one out. Shane Browning helped keep the Larks in the game with a solid 3.2 innings of relief before Wyatt Divis tossed the final three frames, allowing two runs. The Larks walked a total of 11 hitters.
Hays chipped away at the lead in the later innings, starting when Ryne Randle lined one of the pitcher for an RBI single in the seventh for Hays. Rensel then cut the deficit to 9-4 with a single in the eighth, and Daryl Myers drove in a run on a groundout to bring the Larks within four.
Divis drew a two-out walk in the ninth before the San Diego third baseman dropped a pop-up for an error that kept Hays alive. The Larks inched closer after getting a run off a wild pitch and brought the tying run to the plate when Rensel walked.
But Rasbeary hit a grounder to second base for the final out, with the game ending just before 1 a.m. Wednesday morning after starting at about 10:25 p.m.
"They competed. They never gave up in the dugout," Leo said. "They kept believing we could get it done. It didn't get quiet in our dugout. They kept trying to pull for each other. That's the kind of family we had this summer. These guys really got along well and pulled for each other.
"Unfortunately, at the World Series, things come to a crashing halt pretty quick. The only ones that are going to walk away happy are the guys that win the whole thing."