Hays Larks

Short-handed Larks battle for division lead

By Randy Gonzales

HAYS – This has been a season like none other for Frank Leo, in his 37 th summer
managing the Hays Larks.

 |  2019

The Larks have had a short-handed roster from Day One, yet Leo’s club was a half-game
in front of Liberal for first place in the Jayhawk West Division of Kansas Collegiate League
Baseball after Wednesday night’s action. Liberal, which had a home game against Dodge City on
Wednesday, lost 10-6 to the A’s. Hays was 7-5 in division play entering Thursday’s action, with
Liberal at 7-6.
Both Hays and Liberal end league play against the Athletics, who are at 3-6 in the
division. The Larks have four games left with Dodge City and Liberal now ha three remaining.
Hays (20-6 overall) starts a four-game road trip at South Central Division clubs on Thursday,
with two game at the Wellington Heat and two at the McPherson Pipeliners.
The Larks will be without the versatile Hernan Yanez for the rest of the season. Listed as
a catcher on the roster, Yanez also has started at third base and took over at second recently as an
emergency fill-in. He also has pitched for the Larks in a pinch. But Yanez will head home to
Arizona on Thursday to help out his family, which is struggling financially. He will work for the
rest of the summer before returning to school in the fall. Yanez was batting .302 with a .458 on-
base percentage and had 14 RBIs in 20 games.
Leo likes to go with three catchers, and with one of them, Mikey Gangwish, nursing a
sore thumb, the manager found a receiver to replace Yanez – at least for the road trip. Dalton
Dinkel from Newman University will join the team after missing most of the spring season with
a hand injury. Leo said Dinkel, the son of Gary Dinkel, who played for Leo at Hays High, might
be a little rusty and he will see how it goes on the road trip before deciding to stay with the team.
The Larks also hope to get back in the lineup on the road trip infielder Skyler Luna, who
has missed most of the season with a sprained ankle. Leo also picked up a left-hander to add
much-needed depth on the pitching staff in Trevor Munsch, who pitched for McLennan
Community College in the spring and who will transfer this fall to Wichita State. He will be with
the team Monday. Munsch’s arrival could help make up for the absence of left-hander Mason
Myhre, who Leo said is sidelined indefinitely with a respiratory illness.

Hays has been without its projected No. 1 starter all season after right-hander Michael
Wong, who had an arm issue in the spring, was shut down by Texas-Arlington for the summer.
New Mexico right-hander Drew Marrufo also missed a large chunk of the summer with an
oblique injury and has only just recently returned to the mound.
“That’s the status of the Larks right now,” Leo said. “We’ve been fighting a shortage of
pitching all summer. Looks like we’re finally going to get one on board.”
Leo said he expects to have to make roster adjustments during the season but losing his
top starter without throwing a pitch makes it hard to overcome.
“We’ve been trying to play catch-up and never caught up,” he said.
One bright spot was using closer Tommy Garcia as a starter against Liberal. Garcia
pitched six effective innings, and with the hard-throwing Marrufo now available in late innings,
Leo might have another option to bolster the rotation.
“Tommy Garcia opened our eyes a little bit as a possible starter,” Leo said of his slim
right-hander, who is 2-1 with one save and a 1.59 earned-run average.
Rubber-armed Rustin Hays, whose knuckleball allows Leo to use him both as a starter
and reliever, is penciled in to start Thursday’s opener of the road trip. Hays, 2-2 with a 3.30
ERA, took a shutout to the ninth in beating Liberal in his last start.
“He’s like having two pitchers on your staff,” Leo said.
Although the Larks have struggled at times lately hitting with runners in scoring position,
for the season they are batting .333 as a team. They have just 11 home runs but have stolen 65
Outfielder Justin Lee leads the Larks’ attack, batting a team-high .407 and leads the club
with 29 RBIs. Seven other hitters are batting over .300 and four other Larks have more than 20
runs batted in.
“It’s a good, tough lineup,” Leo said. “It’s not the power lineup we’ve had in past years.
We have good contact hitters, put the ball in play. In the long run, that suits you better for
The two division winners will meet for a best two-of-three series, with the winner
advancing to the championship round of the NBC World Series in Wichita. The next four teams
in the league will play a double-elimination tournament, with the winner advancing to the first
week of the season finale.

“It’s been a challenge,” Leo said. “We’re still in very good shape for hopefully a great

Randy Gonzales

Randy is a long time writer for various newspapers and has a passion for sports. He has been writing about the Hays Larks for years and we are proud to have him around!

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