Drama, controversy and heart define Outlaws’ final ride at Nationals
Lawrence The end was bound to come sometime. The Lansing Outlaws knew that much was certain.
The competitive fastpitch softball team was hoping that end would've come on Sunday during the final rounds of the American Fastpitch Association National Tournament, though, rather than Friday night in a hard-fought elimination game at the Youth Sports Inc. Sports Complex.
The Outlaws (18-19-2) struggled during pool play and lost their first round game when the bracket tournament began. Buried in the consolation bracket, they gutted out a 6-5 victory over the Lawrence Phenix T's on Friday morning thanks to Nicole Holland's walk-off double.
The newfound momentum wasn't quite enough Friday night, however, as the Outlaws dropped a 3-2 decision to the Tipton (Mo.) Tigers in a game that was marred by controversy.
The loss brought a premature end to the Outlaws' seven-year run on the regional softball scene.
"We played a great game," said second baseman Carolyn McKune, one of four 2005 Lansing High School graduates on the Outlaws' squad. "We just had a few calls that didn't go our way. We played a great game. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We played good defense. We hit the ball well. We got people on base. We made them play well."
Two controversial strikeout calls against Jessica Hauver - including one on the first at-bat of the game when the umpire never uttered the word "strike" - had coaches from both teams baffled from the beginning. Two close plays at home also went against the Outlaws and kept them from scoring with the bases loaded. Then there was the strike-three call on Jessica Kane in the final inning when the ball bounced off home plate. On top of that, five Lansing batters were hit by pitches, with no resulting warning issued to the Tipton pitcher.
"If it wasn't for some of the umpire's calls, I think we would've won," said Maggie Aus, who was beaned twice during the game. "I think we played a good game. I just think we were kind of cheated."
Despite the series of debatable calls, the Outlaws still had plenty of chances to pull away. They left 12 runners on base and stranded the bases loaded three times. When it came time to make a clutch hit, they either didn't get one or forced the Tigers to make a good defensive play.
Ultimately, Tipton plated the winning run with two outs and just two minutes before the time limit expired. That ended the Outlaws' season - and possibly the team's existence - because half the squad will head to college in the fall.
Outlaws coach Russ Stark said he was proud of the way his team battled in its final game together.
"I don't think they thought this was going to be it with the way they played," he said. "We outplayed the other team, and we certainly didn't quit. That's one thing you've got to say about them. We've probably been blown out two or three times all year, but the rest of them we've been in every game. They've been 3-2 when it comes down to the time limit or extra innings or international rules. They've never quit. That's something that I think says a lot about their character."