Lee’s Summit Outlaws manager Mark Bradford has been around baseball a while, so it’s not often he experiences something new in the game. Wednesday was one of those days.
In their second pool play game on the first day of the American Legion Wood Bat Invitational, the Outlaws scored in the bottom of the seventh inning for a walk-off 5-4 victory over Elsberry (Mo.) Post 226 at Odessa High School. Bradford, of course, has had seen plenty of walk-off victories. He just couldn’t remember ever walking off with a balk before.
“Not that I can recall,” Bradford said. “Not even when they were in 9-year-old kid pitch.”
The seventh inning started with a leadoff single by Justin McEnroe, who was lifted for courtesy runner Cade Ragland. Ragland reached third on a two-out single by Gunnar Gronberg.
With Grant Hill at the plate, Post 226 relief pitcher Joe Martin started to throw toward third base then stopped – a legal move in high school, but not in American Legion or any other level of baseball. The umpire called it a balk, and Ragland trotted home with the game-winner.
“The bad part is that you can do it in high school, but you can’t here,” Bradford said. “As soon as I saw him go to third and stop, it’s the ballgame.”
It was an unusual ending for an unusual day for the Outlaws, who had their first two games moved to Odessa after heavy rains earlier in the week left several fields at Hidden Valley Park and at Blue Springs High School unplayable.
And a team that had been crushing the ball in winning six of its previous seven games – including a 15-hit, 15-0 five-inning victory over Odessa Post 286 in Wednesday’s first game – struggled to get hits early and had to battle from behind in the late innings.
“We’ve been swinging well all season,” McEnroe said. “We adjusted fine to the wood bats; it just took us a little while to find the holes.”
Despite some hard-hit balls, the Outlaws managed only four hits off Elsberry starter Joe Almus over the first five innings. Elsberry, meanwhile, took a 3-0 lead, scoring all its runs on two hits and a walk in the third inning. They were the only earned runs allowed by Outlaws starter Justin Root, who struck out nine and walked only two over seven innings.
The Outlaws’ offense finally came to life in the sixth when they took the lead with a four-run, two-hit rally. Jeremy Root started it with a one-out single, and Gronberg and Hill walked to load the bases. Matthew Campbell brought home the first two runs with a hard-hit double to right field, Hayden Bradford bunted home Hill for the tying run and Oscar Medrano singled home Campbell with the go-ahead run.
“Once we got guys on in the sixth, I knew that we could score them,” Bradford said. “Hayden wanted to bunt the tying run in, and we knew Oscar could get a hit.”
Elsberry would get two more hits in the top of the seventh, back-to-back singles that put Zach Richardson on second with two out. Richardson broke for third and scored easily when McEnroe’s throw sailed wide of third baseman Gronberg.
McEnroe would redeem himself in the bottom of the seventh.
“It was a little frustrating,” McEnroe said. “I knew going up in that next inning that my job was to get on base and the guys behind me were going to hit me in. And that’s just what happened.”
Wednesday’s first game was more typical for the Outlaws. Medrano went three for four with three RBIs against Odessa, and McEnroe also drove in three runs. Ragland and Jason Gonzalez drove in two runs apiece.
The Outlaws led Odessa 4-0 after two innings and blew it open with nine runs on seven hits in the third. Alex Fall and Ragland combined to pitch a three-hit shutout.
“Fifteen runs in a wood bat game is pretty impressive,” Bradford said. “We had some balls go our way.”
Just as most things have gone the Outlaws way during their 26-8 season. After more pool play games Thursday and Friday, they advance to elimination games on Saturday. The semifinals for the 25-team tournament are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, followed by the championship game at 2 p.m. at Hidden Valley Park.