By The Telegram
In six seasons, the Sublette Larks baseball program has gone from the basement to the upper level of southwest Kansas Class 2-1A competition.
The Larks continued its turnaround in Elkhart on Thursday, knocking off No. 1 seeded Minneola 6-3, to claim the regional championship and earn their first trip to the state tournament.
The game was originally started on Tuesday before being halted by rain and lightning when it was in the bottom of the first inning.
"It seemed like forever before we could get back out and play," Sublette coach Ryan Hafen said. "But once we got back out there, the kids settled in and played a very good game."
The Larks took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third when Matt Lower scored on an errant throw by Minneola's second baseman. Minneola took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the third before the Larks bounced back in the top of the fourth to score three runs. A three-run home run by Spur Robinett followed a Brandon Stokes single and Gus Gesling reaching when he was hit by a pitch.
"The home run was huge for us," Hafen said. "It just seemed to spark everybody on the team and I think the kids really felt like they were in a position to win."
In the top of the fifth, the Larks scored twice when Joe Lower reached on an error and Brodie Blackburn singled on a hit and run and Lower scored on another Minneola throwing miscue. Blackburn moved all the way to third on the error, then went home on a passed ball to make it 6-2.
Minneola scored its final run in the bottom of the seventh on a double, a fielder's choice and a sacrifice fly. A triple put a runner on third with two out and winning pitcher Stokes got the final out to nail down the victory.
"We just got phenomenal pitching during the tournament," Hafen said of Stokes (nine hits, six strikeouts, two walks) who went the distance. "But I'd have to say that our win on Tuesday (against Spearville)) was just amazing."
In th 2-1 semifinal contest, Sublette pitcher Travis Leverett went all eight innings, yielding just two hits and striking out 13.
"I think the kids played with a chip on the shoulder," Hafen said in referring to comments made by Minneola players in the Dodge City Daily Globe prior to the tournament. "We started seven seniors and they've endured not so great seasons so it's very rewarding to see them cash in."
Hafen said everyone was riding an emotional high when the game ended.
"We're all pretty excited and looking forward to the state tournament," he said. "The kids have really worked hard this season and it's nice to see it pay off."
Hafen expects the Larks, 15-5, to be a No. 4 or 5 seed in the eight-team tournament that begins May 28 at Soden's Grove Baseball Field in Emporia.
Thursday at Elkhart
Sublette 6, Minneola 3
Sublette 001 320 0 -- 6 7 1
Minneola 002 000 1 -- 3 8 3
W — Stokes (5-1). L — McClaren. 2B — Minneola, Ptacek. HR — Sublette, Robinett.
Sublette 2, Spearville 1
Spearville 100 000 00 -- 1 3 3
Sublette 000 001 01 -- 2 5 0
W — Leverett (5-2). L — King (6-3). 2B — Spearville, Konrade; Sublette, Leverett.