Archive for Saturday, July 23, 2005

Outlaws eliminated at nationals

Controversy, heart define Lansing squad’s final game

July 23, 2005

— From the first at-bat of the game against the Tipton (Mo.) Tigers, the Lansing Outlaws softball team was focused and fired up on Friday night at the American Fastpitch Assn. Class B National Tournament.

In what proved to be the final game of the Outlaws' seven-year existence, there was plenty of drama and controversy throughout. Of all the uncertainty surrounding the game, one thing was certain: the Outlaws didn't go down without a fight.

Tigers 3, Outlaws 2.

In a pre-game team huddle, the Outlaws' players discussed the fact that they wanted to prolong their final tournament run as long as possible.

"When we were warming up they were talking about it, and even then there were some of them that were pretty emotional thinking that we didn't want it to end, but if it did then this was it," Outlaws coach Russ Stark said. "This game, even moreso than when we went into the loser's bracket this game we sensed could be it because the team we were playing had done well in their pool and won one game in the winner's bracket, but they didn't want this to be it."

They certainly didn't want it to end Friday night. After that emotional meeting, Jessica Hauver walked to the plate to lead off the top of the first inning.

Controversy arose on the fifth pitch.

Facing a 2-2 count, the Tigers' pitcher fired a shot that was high and inside. It skipped off the catcher's glove and rolled to the backstop. The umpire only said "three" and never said "strike" or "ball." Only after Outlaws first-base coach Brian Sanders yelled run did the catcher run for the ball or Hauver break for first base.

An argument among coaches and the plate umpire ensued as the umpire refused to enunciate his calls any louder - something that proved to be problematic on multiple occasions throughout the game.

The next two Lansing batters - Maggie Aus and Dana Sanders - both were beaned. Melissa Crawford then ripped an infield single to load the bases, but the Outlaws were unable to score a run.

Tipton plated a run in the bottom of the first after ripping a single and a triple to the fence in right-center field.

Lansing fought back and tied the game in the top of the third. Following another controversial strike-out call against Hauver that even the Tipton coaches said they disagreed with, Aus started the rally when she was hit by another pitch. Sanders then ripped a single and Crawford walked. Nicole Holland - the hero of the Outlaws' 6-5 win against the Lawrence Phenix T's earlier Friday - singled to right and scored Aus.

"We wanted to go out with some kind of a bang," Aus said, "so I think we all were fighting really hard to stay in it."

The Outlaws were unable to score another run that inning, though, and they stranded the bases loaded again.

The Outlaws (18-19-2) took the lead in the fourth inning when Becca Smith-Vandergriff was hit by a pitch to start the inning. Jessica Kane singled and then Hauver bunted for a single that loaded the bases. Aus grounded into a fielder's choice that forced Smith-Vandergriff out at the plate, but Crawford eventually earned a walk that allowed Kane to score. That gave Lansing a 2-1 lead.

Prior to the beginning of the bottom half of the fourth inning, the plate umpire halted play because he'd forgotten to start the official game clock. The delay seemed to allow the Tigers to refocus, because they led off the inning with a single. Three batters later, an error led to a run scoring. Suddenly the game was tied 2-2.

In the top of the fifth the Outlaws again loaded the bases on a pair of singles by Kelly Fratzel and Hauver and another beaning of Smith-Vandergriff. They were unable to score, though, marking the third inning in five that they stranded the bases loaded.

Tipton received a one-out double in the bottom of the fifth, followed by an infield single before Jessica Kane struck out the next batter. A two-out single allowed the game-winning run to score because moments later the time expired.

Many of the Outlaws' players said they felt a little bit cheated by the incessant controversial calls and ever-changing strike zone, but they also admitted they had their chances. Ultimately, they said they were proud that they played well in their final game together.

NOTES

- Hauver went 2-for-4.

- Kane was 2-for-3 at the plate.

- A total of five Outlaws batters were hit by pitches during the game, compared to none for the Tigers. Aus and Smith-Vandergriff both were hit twice. Sanders was beaned once.

For more about the Outlaws at nationals, pick up the July 28 edition of The Current. For an in-depth look back at the team's seven-year run, check out the August 4 edition of The Current.

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