LSJ Sports

Veteran lineup fuels Outlaws’ hot start

Mark Bradford isn’t the least bit surprised to see the Lee’s Summit Outlaws sizzling out of the gate. He had seen this season coming for years.

Bradford was an assistant coach for the Outlaws when the majority of this group started playing together three years ago. And in his second season since taking over as manager of the American Legion baseball team from the late Mike Gailey, he expected all that experience to pay off this season.

“When we first started under Mike, he was a little leery of how young we were,” Bradford said. “And were pretty good right off the bat. These guys have played at a high level since they were 10 years old.”

So far the Outlaws have been living up to Bradford’s lofty expectations. After sweeping Odessa Post 286 11-1 in five innings and 12-4 Wednesday night at Legacy Park, the Outlaws are off to a 14-3 start. They have won eight straight games and 10 of their last 11.

“We’ve had great pitching; we’ve had good hitting up and down the lineup,” Bradford said. “And we haven’t played bad defense, ever. We haven’t given up many runs and we have a pretty powerful offense.”

Most of the Outlaws are recent Lee’s Summit North graduates who played four years together for the Broncos. That group includes Justin Root and Gunnar Gronberg, who have been solid both at the plate and on the mound. Root went three for four with three RBIs in Wednesday’s nightcap. Bradford’s son, Hayden, scored twice and drove in two runs in the first game and went three for four and scored three times in the second.

Catcher Justin McEnroe, a Lee’s Summit West graduate who’s in his third season with the team, finished the night with four hits, five runs and three RBIs. The double-digit run totals were the seventh and eighth this season for the Outlaws, who are averaging just under nine runs a game.

“Everyone’s been hitting the ball pretty well,” Bradford said. “Really, no one’s struggled that much. We’ve had a couple of slumps here and there, but when the other guys are performing there’s a good chance you’re going to score some runs.”

That offense has backed a deep and solid pitching staff highlighted by Justin Root, Gronberg and Root’s younger brother, Jeremy Root. There’s also Matt Campbell, who helped Pleasant Hill reach the Class 4 state tournament this spring, Alex Fall, a left-hander from West who missed last summer recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Talbott Buford, who also pitched for West.

“We’re really haven’t had many bad outings,” Bradford said. “We’re deeper in pitching than we’ve ever been.”

It’s part of why Bradford believes this team can make a run at qualifying for the American Legion state tournament this summer. The Outlaws, who finished the regular season 19-12 overall and 14-6 in Zone 2 play, fell short of that goal last season.

But before they can think about the postseason, the Outlaws will have to navigate an always challenging Zone 2 schedule, as well as a tournament this weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the annual Wood Bat Tournament the first week of July in Blue Springs.

After watching these guys for several years, Bradford is certain they’re up to the challenge.

“We anticipated having a lot of success and we’re hoping to do some damage and a get to the state tournament,” Bradford said. “That’s the goal.”