Archive for Saturday, July 16, 2005

Aus’ triple caps wild night for Outlaws

Hits aplenty as Lansing advances to final eight at USSSA State Tourney

July 16, 2005

— There's no way the Eagles softball team could have seen this coming.

When Lansing Outlaws third baseman Maggie Aus stepped to the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the last inning Saturday night, the Eagles had every reason to believe Aus would lay down a bunt and attempt a suicide squeeze play. At the very most, they must have thought she'd hit a ground ball. After all, Aus usually isn't a pull-hitter, and lately she hasn't swung away much.

She'd bunted during her first two at-bats and hit a ground ball to short during her third.

Still, on an atypical evening for the Outlaws, it may have been a fitting conclusion.

Aus, Lansing's best situational bunter, faced a full count with the bases were juiced and two outs. She stepped into a pitch and drove it deep to left field. It sailed over the outfielder's head and rolled to the fence.

"I don't know (where that came from)," Aus said. "It's crazy, but it felt really good."

Jessica Hauver makes a catch in deep center field during the Outlaws' victory over the Eagles.

Jessica Hauver makes a catch in deep center field during the Outlaws' victory over the Eagles.

Erika Rios scored from third base. Becca Smith-Vandergriff came home from second. Carolyn McKune scored all the way from first. Aus raced around for a triple and then pulled off her helmet to reveal an ear-to-ear grin as the umpire signaled that time had expired.

Outlaws 7, Eagles 4.

The victory catapulted the Outlaws into the final eight at the USSSA State Tournament at Mid-America West Sports Complex.

Few things were normal for the Outlaws from the beginning Saturday night. They played without coach Russ Stark who was unable to attend, so assistant coach Brian Sanders took over the head coaching duties. Left fielder Jessica Stark wasn't there either. She missed her fifth straight game with a broken toe, but her absence from the dugout was noteworthy because she's been one of the squad's vocal leaders all summer.

Melissa Crawford fires a throw to first base for an out during the Outlaws' 7-4 victory over the Eagles at the USSSA State Tournament.

Melissa Crawford fires a throw to first base for an out during the Outlaws' 7-4 victory over the Eagles at the USSSA State Tournament.

Also out of the ordinary was the fact that the Outlaws fell into an early hole.. The Eagles plated three runs in the top of the first inning off of four hits, including two doubles to the fence.

Rather than hanging their heads, though, the Outlaws struck back instantly. Jessica Hauver ripped a leadoff single. Aus bunted for a single. Dana Sanders laid down a sacrifice bunt that scored Hauver. Melissa Crawford singled up the middle that allowed Aus to score. Jessica Kane followed with a double to left field. Then Crawford and Kane both scored on a single by Kelly Fratzel. By the end of the first inning the Outlaws led 4-3.

"That was amazing because we never really do that," Aus said of the big inning. "It was great because we started off early and we didn't wait until the fifth inning to start hitting."

The Outlaws (17-13-2) kept hitting all game, but they struggled to bring runners home. They stranded one runner in the first, another in the second, two in the third and three in the fourth innings. Fortunately for Lansing, its defense was solid. The Eagles made steady contact throughout the game, but the defense made plays when it needed to and played error-free softball all game.

The Eagles opened the fifth and final inning with a pair of ground outs, but then the bats heated up again. Three singles and a hit batter allowed a run to score. That notched the game at 4-4, but Lansing had one final chance.

Maggie Aus applies a tag at third base during the Outlaws' 7-4 victory over the Eagles.

Maggie Aus applies a tag at third base during the Outlaws' 7-4 victory over the Eagles.

The Outlaws came to bat in the bottom of the fifth with their sights set on a victory. Nicole Holland grounded out to start the inning, but Fratzel followed by ripping a single up the middle. Rios then came on to pinch-run for her. Smith-Vandergriff laced a double to left. Then McKune walked to load the bases. Hauver ripped a line drive to center that was caught for the second out.

With tournament teams Manhattan Optimist and the Abilene Eagles watching closely from the stands, Aus stepped to the plate for her final at-bat. The Eagles' pitcher threw three straight balls, then two strikes right down the middle. Aus fouled the next pitch down the third base line before smashing her game-winning triple.

"People definitely know we're here," Aus said of her team's thrilling fight to the finish. "Hopefully it'll stay that way."

The Outlaws next play at 8 a.m. Sunday against the KC Impact. They must win six games Sunday to win the tournament.

Kelly Fratzel blocks the plate and tags out a runner during the Outlaws' 7-4 victory over the Eagles at the USSSA State Tournament.

Kelly Fratzel blocks the plate and tags out a runner during the Outlaws' 7-4 victory over the Eagles at the USSSA State Tournament.

If the Outlaws are going to be state champions, they'll have to do it by climbing all the way through the elimination bracket. They dropped to the back side by losing their earlier game Saturday to the Topeka Explosion, 2-1.

During that game, the Outlaws seemed poised to gain revenge on the Explosion for a 6-1 loss last Sunday at the AFA State Tournament. Jessica Kane was impressive on the mound all game as she fired a no-hitter for five innings. The Explosion took a 1-0 lead in the third inning because of a pair of errors that led to a run. The Outlaws mustered just three hits all game, though. Two of them came in the top of the sixth. Melissa Crawford singled and Fratzel smashed a run-scoring double that tied the game.

In the bottom of the sixth, a leadoff walk came back to hurt Lansing because the Explosion then got their lone hit of the game - a single that allowed the first batter to score.

NOTES

- Jessica Hauver continues to hit well. She was 2-for-6 at the plate Saturday. She is batting .552 (16-for-29) during the last 12 games.

- Melissa Crawford is batting .406 (13-for-32) during the last 12 games.

- The Outlaws played their fourth and fifth games without Jessica Stark. Stark, the Outlaws' regular left fielder, missed the games with a broken toe.

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