After a sweat-drenched and run-soaked four days of baseball, the Lee’s Summit Outlaws certainly felt deserving of a trip to state. Not even a forfeit could change all that.
The Outlaws forfeited the championship game of the American Legion Zone 2 baseball tournament Saturday, which would have come on the heels of a back-and-forth 16-12 victory over St. Joseph Post 11 in the loser’s bracket final at Hidden Valley Park in Blue Springs. Since the last two teams standing advanced to the American Legion state tournament this year, the game meant nothing.
And everybody was ready to go home.
“We’ve been through a lot and we definitely have earned it,” Outlaws third baseman/pitcher Justin Root said.
All the tournament games were nine innings and they were all played with high-school pitch count rules, which were designed for seven-inning games. Almost every team ran out of arms at one point, and the Outlaws weren’t immune. They blew late leads in three games, but with some help from the other teams’ tired pitching, they were able to overcome two of those deficits.
“Those extra two innings are something else,” Outlaws manager Mark Bradford said. “It adds a whole new dimension to it. It’s amazing.”
The Outlaws needed an RBI single from Root in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat St. Joseph Post 11 6-5 Thursday night after losing a 5-1 lead in the eighth. Saturday’s loser’s bracket rematch in near 100-degree heat didn’t appear to be heading for late-inning heroics after the Outlaws entered the seventh inning up 7-3.
They would exit the top of the seventh down 12-7 after St. Joseph struck for nine runs. St. Joseph only needed three hits in the barrage with the Outlaws hitting four batters, committing three errors and giving up a bases-loaded walk.
“Our defense wasn’t doing too good,” Root said. “We made a couple of crucial errors and that cost us. But since we had those extra innings, we knew we would battle back and get them because their pitcher was getting tired and we knew that.”
The Outlaws wasted no time battling back. They scored seven runs in the bottom of the seventh on three hits, five walks, an error, a wild pitch and a hit batter. They added two more in the eighth on two wild pitches.
“They never do panic,” Bradford said. “They think they can pull it out and they do most of the time.”
The Outlaws couldn’t pull it out Friday night against Rods Sports A’s, the other team that qualified for state, and lost 9-8 in 10 innings. A five-run seventh inning that included a two-RBI single from Root and a two-RBI double by Gunnar Gronberg put the Outlaws up 8-2, and Gronberg cruised through six innings on the mound giving up only two runs and four hits with nine strikeouts.
Bradford had to pull Gronberg after the sixth when his pitch count got too high, and the A’s took advantage of the Outlaws’ other tired arms. They tied it with two runs in the bottom of the ninth, and won it when Andrew Garry, who was pinch running after Andrew Gibler singled to lead off the 10th, came home on a wild pitch.
“The A’s game was unfortunate,” Bradford said. “That was probably one of the toughest losses I’ve ever had. We should have won that game, no doubt about it.”
That loss wouldn’t keep the Outlaws, 32-11, from reaching the state Legion tournament for the first time since 2014 and for only the second time in the program’s history. They meet Festus in the first round Thursday at Liberty Park in Sedalia.
“It was our goal to make it there and we made it,” Braford said. “I’m happy for these guys. I’ve wanted it for them very badly. I’m glad they made it, they deserve it.”