Clutch hitting and base running lifted the state-ranked Hays Rebels to a 9-4 win over the Akins Eagles Tuesday at Hays High.
Despite battling strong winds and several defensive errors, Hays (17-1, 3-0) head baseball coach James Howard said he was happy to take the district win.
“There’s definitely some things we got to keep working on, the small things, the routine plays that we’ve got to make in the field,” Howard said. “We’ve got to do a better job of making routine plays, so I was a little disappointed in that. But the bottom line is every district win is a big win, and so we did get the district win and that’s huge.”
Early Rebel fielding errors allowed Akins to place runners in scoring position in the top of the first frame. The Eagles took a 1-0 lead after a single bounced off of Hays starting pitcher Aidan Martinez’ ankle.
Hays committed four total errors in the game while Akins had none.
“You know its baseball, and they are high school kids and they are giving the best effort that they got,” Howard said. “Sometimes the ball bounces that way. I don’t think its necessarily anything they are doing wrong, it’s just we’ve got to get after the reps and get it right in practice.”
The Rebels bounced back quickly in the bottom of the first with a double steal that scored Seth Stevenson, followed by a double to right field by Zane Lilljedahl that brought two Hays runners home. Hays led 3-1 after an inning.
Lilljedahl expanded the Rebel lead to 5-1 in the bottom of the third inning with a two RBI single to left field. Lilljedahl went 3-for-3 with five RBI’s.
“It feels great,” Lilljedahl said. “It feels great to have everybody behind me. It’s been a fun environment and I’m having a great time.”
Akins, however, responded by scoring three runs in the top of the fifth frame, which cut Hays’ lead to 5-4.
The Rebels countered by tallying five runs in bottom half of the fifth inning to take a 9-4 lead.
Lilljedahl got it started via a single to left field that brought home one runner. A triple to deep right field by Richard Herrera scored two more Rebel runs. Hays catcher Jack Otto closed scoring with an RBI sacrifice fly.
Howard said the bottom of his lineup “came through big” after he had challenged them to produce. Prior to the fifth inning, Hays’ six through nine hitters were 0-for-8 at the plate.
“They came through big in the big inning that we had,” Howard said.
Martinez earned the win by pitching six innings and giving up four runs on six hits and two walks while striking out six. Hays’ Garrison Vaughn finished the game by pitching the seventh inning in relief.
Hays looks to keep its torrid start to the season going when they travel to play at Austin High Friday. The Rebels then host rival Lehman Monday at 7 p.m.
Howard credits the team’s early success with doing the little things right on and off the field.
“They’ve done a really good job with that and just not over-complicating things and just playing with a lot of passion and a lot of fun,” Howard said. “They are having fun playing the game right now. When you’re having fun playing the game, it’s a pretty dangerous team.”