Blues open state Legion tournament with 11-1 win
By CONOR NICHOLL
Special to The Telegram
HAYS — Finney County right-hander Edgar Montoya finished a complete game Wednesday when he coaxed a line drive to center field. As Montoya walked off the field, coach Lyle Befort pointed his finger several times at him in celebration and then offered a high-five.
Behind Befort's leadership and pitch-calling and Montoya's ace quality work throughout the summer, Finney County has enjoyed its best season in many years and has continued a turnaround in the last couple of summers. The Blues delivered an 11-1 victory against Emporia that was called after seven innings because of the mercy rule in the first round of the Class AAA state tournament at Larks Park.
"It's great to have an opportunity to come to state since we never had a chance to during school ball," Montoya said.
Finney County improved to 28-8 and is 4-0 in Zone/State play, including back-to-back run-rule victories. Montoya bumped his record to 8-2 and allowed just one first inning run in the Blues' first trip to state in many years.
"He is a lot smoother now," Befort said. "He knows exactly what we are trying to do, moving around the zone. Usually where I will call it, he will throw it there. It's been a pleasure having him this summer so far."
Befort, a former Fort Hays State University pitcher who coached the Hays Legion team to multiple state berths from 2003-07, has improved the Blues in three years.
"It's the hardest working team they have had for a little while," Befort said. "When I got down there three years ago, we were kind of small, we weren't lifting weights in the offseason, we weren't doing skill work during the winter.
"This year, these guys all got together, and we got in the weight room at the beginning of the year, and they worked really hard," he added. "They have got a lot of power, they have got a lot of strength. We have worked on skill work, and it has paid off."
Montoya is one of the players who has worked hard. A Garden City Community College signee, Montoya has a four-pitch arsenal and has improved under Befort. On Wednesday, he used his curveball and slider effectively to offset a fastball that he didn't spot as well as he worked have liked. Montoya allowed just three hits and struck out six.
"Really just my stamina, my arm strength, lifting in the offseason with Coach Befort," Montoya said of his improvements. "The mentality part, I think I have good composure, I don't let a lot get to me. That's really the most important thing, I think when you are pitching is just having great composure."
As normal, Befort called every pitch. Montoya tossed 90 pitches and should be able to come back for the championship either Saturday or Sunday if the Blues make it that far in the double-elimination tournament.
"We have a couple catchers that weren't on varsity, so they are not ready yet to call a game, not knowing how to set up batters, looking at their feet in the batter's box, if they are pulling their hip, all that, so we just take all the worry out of that," Befort said.
Finney County tallied three runs in the first and had another five in the sixth. Both times, leadoff batter Robert Tomlin started the big rallies. He entered state with a .392 average and 24 runs scored.
"When we went to zones, we needed to score early and score a lot," Befort said. "That was the big thing. We've got to get that first pitcher out of there. We do a lot better when we are ahead. Our pitcher is a lot more comfortable, and once we got that lead, Edgar just kind of settled in."
Tomlin reached on a single in the first and a hit batter in the sixth.
In the first, Finney County also used a sacrifice, hit batter, error, walk, single and forceout for the runs. In the sixth, the Blues also drew four walks and had two hits, including a double from Ian Jones.
"I think he is the most important person in the lineup, because he is the one that gets stuff going," Montoya said.