By BRETT MARSHALL
Sublette coach Ryan Hafen knows a few things about his senior-laden baseball team.
He knows they can hit — attested by its .362 team batting average. He knows he has two solid pitchers — Brandon Stokes (5-1, 2.50 ERA) and Travis Leverett (5-2).
Those two areas, as well as an improved defense, propelled the Larks to their first Class 2-1A regional title and will play key roles in their first round game Friday at 1:30 p.m. against Ellis at Soden's Grove Park in Emporia.
"We've gotten good production from our lineup, up and down," Hafen said. "We know Ellis beat Syracuse 17-7 in their regional title game, so we know they have a good team, but I really don't know much about them."
The Larks are 16-5, while Ellis is 15-6. Both are on the same side of the bracket as defending champion Pittsburg-Colgan which beat Moscow in the 2009 state title game.
Hafen will rely on the hitting of Stokes (.481), Matthew Lower (.350), Leverett (.414), Preston Sabata (.438), Joseph Lower (.381), Gus Gesling (.353) and Spur Robinett (.341). The Larks have belted 18 home runs for the season, six by Brodie Blackburn, four by Robinett and three by Stokes.
"We just want to continue to play the strong defense that we had in the regionals, then put the ball in play and put pressure on their defense," Hafen said. "If we get good pitching from Brandon we've got a chance."
In just 36 innings pitched, Stokes has registered 50 strikes and walked just 11 while compiling his 2.50 ERA. He will start in the Larks first game. Leverett, who would pitch on Saturday with a Friday victory, has 48 strikeouts and 23 walks in 34 innings pitched.
A victory puts the Larks in Saturday's semifinals at 10 a.m. with the consolation and championship games slated for 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
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The Scott City Beavers (13-10) will be looking to play the spoiler as they go into the eight-team tournament as the No. 7 seed at Dean Evans Stadium in Salina. The Beavers face second-seeded Spring Hill (17-6) in the 4 p.m. quarterfinal game and a win would put the Beavers into Saturday's semifinal at 12:30 p.m. against the Topeka Hayden-Mulvane winner.
Scott City coach Neil Baker will decide between junior Ron Baker (4-3, 3.53 ERA) and Stevie Fyler (7-1, 3.24 ERA) for his starting pitching on Friday. Fyler has pitched a team-high 54 innings and registered 53 strikeouts and walked 24. Baker, the team's leading hitter at .437, has 59 strikeouts in 37 innings but has walked 37 batters.
"We played our best baseball of the season and the kids really came together," Baker said of the Beavers' 8-7, 8-inning victory over Pratt in the 4A regional title game. "We got good pitching, timely hitting and our defense was as good as it's been all season."
While the Beavers have not relied on the home run this season (just four), they do have Matthew Zilla (.319, 19 RBIs), Brett O'Neil (.384, 18 RBIs), Baker (.437, 18 RBIs) and Fyler (.313, 7 RBIs) for their offensive punch. They have recorded 40 doubles