The Larks will bring an eight-game winning streak – all in league play – into Thursday night’s home game against the Park City Rangers. First pitch is 7 p.m. at Larks Park for the opener of a four-game homestand.
“Anytime you start a season, expectations are high,” said Frank Leo, in his 37th season as Larks manager. “You’re not sure until you get everybody in and see how they perform. Very pleased with what we’ve done so far.”
For the season, Hays (9-1overall, 8-0 KCLB) is averaging 9.8 runs per game while giving up 3.5 runs per night. The Larks have scored in double figures in five games, including their last four. They are hitting .347 as a team, with three players batting over .400 and another three over .300 for the season.
“It’s a good offensive lineup,” Leo said. “It’s a tough lineup for a pitcher to get through. We can put some runs up on the board, which is a good sign.”
Center fielder and leadoff man Drake Angeron leads the club with a .412 batting average, leads the team in stolen bases (7) and is tied for runs scored (13). Infielder/DH Wyatt Divis is hitting .407 with a team-high .590 on-base percentage. Right fielder George Sutherland is batting .405 for the Larks.
“Angeron just brings a lot to the table with his speed,” Leo said. “Talk about a guy who has command of the strike zone, that’s Wyatt Divis; he’s a pretty tough out. George is feeling comfortable and doing a great job.”
Left fielder Justin Lee is batting .366 and leads the team in RBIs with 14. Infielder Matt Cavanagh, who was used as a defensive replacement in the spring at Texas-Arlington, has made the most of his opportunity to get some at-bats, hitting .395 with 11 RBIs.
“Justin Lee has just been very clutch for us,” Leo said. “He’s been an RBI machine.
“Matt’s been a very good offensive surprise for us,” he added. “Looking at his swing, it’s a good swing.”
First baseman Jarrod Belbin is hitting .308 with 11 RBIs and middle infielder Jimmy DeLeon has a .303 batting average. Catcher Mikey Gangwish is batting .296 with a .537 OBP.
Gangwish has been battling a sore right thumb and one of the team’s other catchers, Max McGuire, should be available for the weekend series after missing time with a bad back. Right-hander Drew Marrufo is sidelined indefinitely with a muscle injury. Injuries are something of a worry for Leo, who will have one of his smallest rosters with 21 available players once a pair of infielders from Jacksonville State arrive during the homestand.
“Our main concern is to find a few more pitchers,” Leo said. “It would give us a little more depth, which is hard to find this time of year.”
The pitchers Leo has now have done their part, too, during the hot start. They have a 3.15 team earned-run average and have limited opponents to a .221 batting average.
“Our pitching has been doing an outstanding job for us,” Leo said. “We’re pushing them with the (lack of) depth we have.”
Right-hander Christian Pearcy is 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 17 innings.
“Christian has done a tremendous job of pounding the zone, throws a lot of strikes,” Leo said. “He gets a lot of ground balls.”
Left-hander Mason Myhre (1-0) is the Larks’ probable starter in the series opener against Park City. With a big series at Liberal looming next week, Leo is setting up his rotation for the BeeJays. Pearcy, Divis and left-hander Michael Gilliland, who tossed six shutout innings in his Larks’ debut on Monday, will pitch out of the bullpen against the Rangers. Expected to get starts over the weekend are left-hander Ryan Ruder and right-handers Rustin Hays and Nash Neff.
After eight games, the new league has been a mixed bag, Leo said.
“Day in and day out it isn’t what we saw in the Jayhawk League,” Leo said. “Dodge was very competitive and we know they will be competitive. Liberal will be competitive. That’s our two main concerns right now.”