Blues open state Legion tourney today in Hays

7/31/2013

Blues open state Legion tourney today in Hays

Blues open state Legion tourney today in Hays

By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

It would be easy for Lyle Befort to be satisfied with the summer baseball performance of his Finney County Blues American Legion team.

After all, the Blues have compiled a glossy 27-8 record and a week ago captured their first Zone 7 championship in several years.

But Befort isn't ready to have the summer season come to an end and the Blues will begin their quest for a state championship at 5 p.m. today in Hays when they face Emporia in the opening round of the AAA American Legion tournament.

A victory puts them into Thursday's 8 p.m. semi-finals while a loss drops them into a 1 p.m. consolation game in the double-elimination tournament that features eight teams from around Kansas, seven zone champions and the host Hays squad.

"The biggest thing about this year's team is that we had a bump in the road earlier in the summer and we were able to bounce back from that," Befort said Tuesday on the eve of the state tourney. "Last year, we didn't have that until at the end (of the season). We're playing good baseball at the right time."

The Blues swept through the Zone tournament by defeating Great Bend twice and Dodge City once, with the championship game being a 12-1 rout of Great Bend in a game halted by the 10-run mercy rule.

"The kids are playing together as a team. They've spent a lot of time on the road and have gotten really close," Befort said. "They've had a great time and our older guys have done a good job of taking over and helping the younger guys out."

It's been a combination of strong pitching and timely hitting that has carried the Blues through the summer schedule.

The pitching staff has compiled a 3.30 earned-run-average, with future Garden City Community College hurler Edgar Montoya leading the way with a 7-2 record and a 2.07 ERA. Isaiah Rodriguez also is 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA. Edgar's younger brother, Mario, has posted a 4-0 mark and a 2.02 ERA while Ivan Gutierrez is 4-1 with a 2.71 ERA.

"The thing the staff has done is keep the ball low and are throwing strikes," Befort said. "I make all the calls and it takes about one time through to know what the other team's hitters are doing, so it's been a good way for the pitchers to stay ahead in the count."

Edgar Montoya has record 38 strikeouts in 44 innings while issuing 18 walks. Jake Curran (3-2, 3.75 ERA) has 42 strikeouts and 27 walks in 33 2/3 innings.

Offensively, the Blues are hitting at a .352 clip with Ian Jones leading the way with a lofty .586 average, getting 17 hits in 29 at-bats. Curran is next at .489, and leads the team in doubles with seven. Robert Tomlin, who bats in the leadoff position, is hitting .392 nad has a team-high four triples while also scoring a team-best 24 runs.

"Everything stems off him," Befort said of Tomlin. "He's our table-setter. When he's on base, we do well."

From the start of the summer schedule in early June, Befort hoped to fill the fifth through ninth hitting spots and he's seen great strides in that area.

"It took a little while to get things in order there, because some of the kids didn't really know how to hit," Befort said. "But all the players are doing their job at the plate. We're not striking out much (66 times in 431 at-bats) and so we're getting good looks at the plate. We're not hitting for power, but we're getting a lot of singles, a lot of runners on base."

Should the Blues come through the tournament and end up with a championship, they would advance to the regionals in Arkansas next week.

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