Archive for Thursday, June 16, 2005

No heartaches: Outlaws win three

Hot bats, strong pitching propel Outlaws to three-game sweep

June 16, 2005

— For the better part of Wednesday evening at Field of Dreams, Lansing Outlaws left fielder Jessica Stark couldn't stop singing.

Over and over Stark belted out the refrain to Trick Pony's song, "It's a heartache."

The more she sang, the better the Outlaws played.

"It's always like that," said Outlaws coach Russ Stark, Jessica's father. "Whenever they loosen up, they play a lot better."

Stark continued to sing - eventually switching her music catalog to 90s songs by Hanson and Ace of Base, and then delving into the Beach Boys hit "Kokomo" and the Disney classic "Hakuna Matata" before returning to Trick Pony.

No matter what the song, as long as singing was involved the Outlaws' bats seemed to chime right along on key. They put up a pair of seven-run innings while sweeping a doubleheader against the Lady Jets, 8-0 and 13-3, and then gutted through a defensive battle with their rivals, the KC Impact, and won their third and final game of the night, 2-0.

"We played good 'D,'" Russ Stark said. "We had a couple of errors, but we made some good plays behind them to pick them up, and we were putting the bat on the ball."

Putting the bat on the ball was the story of the first two games. In the first game the Outlaws were retired in order in the first inning, but then they erupted for seven runs in the second inning. Jessica Stark began the inning by reaching base on an error. Then Jessica Kane converted a bunt single, Carolyn McKune loaded the bases with a walk and Kelly Fratzel ripped a run-scoring single. Melissa Crawford followed with a single up the middle. Jessica Hauver, Maggie Aus and Becca Smith-Vandergraff also drove in runs in the inning. McKune led off the third with a single and later scored on Smith-Vandergraff's double to right-center field for the final run.

Emporia High standout Erika Rios made sure the Outlaws' eight-run lead never was in doubt. She started on the mound and allowed just two hits.

"Erika threw it well in that first game," Russ Stark said of Rios' seven-strikeout effort.

Lansing pounced on the Lady Jets quickly in game two. The Outlaws put up seven runs in the first inning. Hauver, Aus and Dana Sanders opened the game with consecutive singles and took advantage of defensive errors to score. In fact, the first five Lansing batters reached base. In all, the Outlaws sent 12 batters to the plate in the first inning before their at-bat was halted because of the seven-runs-in-an-inning mercy rule.

The Outlaws (8-4-2) lacked focus during the middle of the game as a result of the cozy lead, but when the Lady Jets plated three runs in the top of the third, Lansing responded with six runs in the bottom half of the inning. When the lead reached 13-3 the game was stopped.

As easy as the first two wins came, the Outlaws had to buckle down and work much harder in the final game of the night against their veteran foes, the KC Impact.

"I was almost worried about that last game because in those other games we lost focus a little bit," Russ Stark said, "But then we got them out one-two-three in that first inning and played well from there."

Sure enough, Kane delivered a focused, precise performance when the Outlaws needed it. She struck out the first two batters of the game and forced the third to ground out. She was almost as untouchable the entire night. She only allowed four hits all game and didn't allow a runner past second base.

"I thought I threw it pretty good," Kane said.

Then her teammates took care of the rest. Aus earned a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, stole second and later scored on Jessica Stark's single up the middle. Lansing added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when Hauver blooped a leadoff single to left field and later scored on another single by Jessica Stark.

Time expired after Hauver crossed the plate so the Outlaws were able to celebrate their 2-0 victory.

And how'd they celebrate?

You guessed it. Stark started singing again, and her teammates joined her.

"We're just like that," Hauver said of the silly behavior that seemed to help the Outlaws play better, keep their focus and, ultimately, win.

Maybe there's something to the singing after all, but Russ Stark said he isn't so certain.

"I think they're just goofy," he said with a grin. "It doesn't matter."

The Outlaws next play at 6:15 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. Wednesday against the Lightning Strikers. Then they'll take a road trip to Dodge City for a tournament June 24-26.

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