Hunter Phillips tosses a pitch earlier this season. Phillips and the Bee Jays will be hosting the Dodge City A’s Thursday and look to stay atop the league standings in a pennant race with the Hays Larks. L&T photo/Earl Watt

4TH & GOAL, Earl Watt


Another summer, another race between the Liberal Bee Jays and the Hays Larks at the top of the Rocky Mountain Baseball League.

These two teams battled it out when they dominated the Jayhawk League before the eastern teams either got tired of losing or traveling to the west side of the state and bolted.

That temporarily left the Larks and Bee Jays looking for a league home.

The Bee Jays temporarily joined another Kansas conference before committing to the Rocky Mountain.

The Dodge City A’s joined the Bee Jays in making the switch a year after Hays made the jump, and since then, the three Kansas teams have held their own with their Colorado competitors.

The addition of Liberal and Hays has certainly brought legitimacy to the RMBL. While Hays has yet to win a national championship, the Larks have become a regular at the NBC World Series.

Liberal needs no introduction when it comes to the NBC and summer baseball. The Bee Jays are the all-time winningest team in NBC history and has five national championship titles.

And it’s never easy.

Both the Bee Jays and the Larks have been part of the NBC World Series in recent years and have faced off at the national tournament as well.

The Bee Jays defeated the Larks for the national championship in 2000, and since then they have each knocked each other out of the tournament in different years.

As is typical, the two teams won’t play until late in the season. The first two games between the two teams tied at the top of the league will take place July 9 and 10 in Hays. The final two games will be played July 16 and 17 in Liberal.

Of course, a lot can happen between now and then.

Both teams have already suffered two losses to other teams in the conference.

Since then, the Bee Jays have reeled off 10 wins in a row, and the Larks recently dropped their second conference game that led to a tie at the top of the league.

The Bee Jays have the next two days off before traveling to Dodge City Wednesday and returning to Brent Gould Field to host the A’s for the traditional Fourth of July classic.

Hays has two games to play before the Fourth, and the race now becomes who can maintain the pace before the two face off next week.

The unprecedented success of the Bee Jay program may be its own worst enemy.

We expect to win, and we expect to be part of the NBC World Series, year in and year out.

It’s not a guarantee, and we have to play our way in.

Sometimes The Bee Jays have had to have a better second half than first half to earn  an invitation, and some years they have been able to establish a quick start.

But with Hays and Liberal in the same league, it’s always going to be a battle for the top.

And while both teams at the top of the RMBL get invited to the national tournament, winning the league is important when it comes to seeding.

By the time Thursday gets here, the Bee Jays could be in first place all by themselves or within a game of Hays. Either way, the key final three weeks of the season are here, and it will be another nail biter.

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