By GERARD WELLBROCK
WICHITA — The Hays Larks used another solid pitching performance and some late homers to edge past the Liberal Bee Jays 6-2 in the semifinals of the 88th National Congress of Baseball World Series on Friday night at Eck Stadium.
Garrett Gruell hit a two-run homer from the light post into left field to break a 2-2 tie in the top of the eighth inning. Palmer Hutchison hit his second homer of the tournament, also a two-run left in the ninth, to give the Larks some confidence.
The Larks (38-9), who entered the game with the lowest ERA in this year’s tournament, got another great start this time from Ben Baker-Livingston. The New Mexico rookie allowed both runs on two hits with three strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. Sam Hendon (4-1) followed with a scoreless 1 1/3 inning and took the win. Ben McLaughlin, who missed Thursday’s quarterfinal game with food poisoning, recorded the last six outs for his first save. McLaughlin retired three of the last four Liberals to send the Larks to Saturday night’s title game.
Liberal took the lead in second on a Tyse Armstrong home run.
The Larks scored two goals in the fourth to take the lead. Dylan Dreiling was hit by a one-out pitch and then scored on a brace from Garrett Gruell. Leo Jiminian led Gruell with a two-out understudy to center field.
The Bee Jays (34-6) responded with a late-inning run on a groundout after a wild single first pitch to tie the game 2-2. They would only get two runners in position to score the rest of the way.
Ben McLaughlin opened the decisive eighth inning with a walk but was ejected at second on a ground fly at second by Dreiling. Gruell followed with his third homer of the season to give Hays the lead for good.
Jack Torosian doubled with two outs in the top of the ninth, then scored on Hutchison’s 11th header.
The Larks win the season series with the Liberals 3-2. Each went 1-1 at home during the regular season, with the Bee Jays winning the Rockies Baseball League title in the final game at Larks Park on July 22.
The Larks and Bee Jays are now 2-2 in games played at the NBC World Series. The Larks won in 1996 but lost in the title game in 2000 and 2008.
THE SIXTH TIME IS A CHARM
The Larks will face the Santa Barbara Forester in the title game on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Santa Barbara, which has won the last two titles, beat the Seattle Studs 9-2 in Friday’s second semifinal.
This is the Larks’ sixth trip to the NBC World Series title game, losing in 2016, 2007, 2001, 2000 and 1995.