To say the Lee’s Summit Legion Pirates had some growing pains early on this summer would be putting it mildly.
College-aged players who hadn’t competed since high school were showing their rust. New faces in the lineup were trying to find their place. And the defense left much to be desired.
It all added up to a 5-14 record and a 1-4 start in league play.
But things have changed in the last week or so. The Pirates were 6-2 over their last eight games going into July, which had manager Matt Carpenter believing his team was now headed in the right direction.
“I know if I just step back and look at where we were three or even two weeks ago and look at the kind of baseball we are playing right now, I feel like we’re a much, much better baseball team,” Carpenter said.
The Pirates began their recent streak June 25 with a 15-1, 13-0 sweep of the Post 1000 Bears. They split two games with the Lee’s Summit Legion Outlaws the next night and recorded another split with Sedalia the night after that.
After outslugging St. Joseph Post 11 13-8 on June 28, the Pirates found themselves 9-15 overall and feeling a bit better about their season.
“Things have turned around for us since last week,” Carpenter said. “I think we’ve figured out for the most part who belongs where and we’ve been able get guys in spot where they can be the most successful.”
Carpenter attributes the Pirates’ reversal of fortune to its defense, which, while still not a strong suit, has come a long way from where it had been.
“We’ve gone from being really below average defensively to being able to get the job done,” Carpenter said. “I think the guys would tell you we’re still not pleased with our defense but it has improved quite a bit.”
The biggest improvement, Carpenter said, is that the Pirates are now turning double plays, which proved to be a problem early on. Now instead of giving up extra outs and longer rallies, the Pirates have had more success keeping teams in check.
“One of the things that was killing us early in the year was our complete inability to turn a double play,” Carpenter said. “We’ve improved on that a lot. Off the top of my head last week can think at least three or four double plays that got us out of a jam and kept the other team out of a big inning.”
The offense has also come around with the help of Lone Jack products Blake Chura and Dillon Howell. Chura, who attends MCC-Longview but didn’t play ball last season, has been the team’s most consistent hitter after moving into the top of the order. And Howell, according to Carpenter, “has been hitting the cover off the ball the last few games.”
“Even when he’s out, he hits the ball hard,” Carpenter said. “Where Blake has been the most consistent guy all year, Dylan has been the hottest guy right now.”
Carpenter said the pitching has picked up, too, especially starters Xavier Boerger and Saul Nunez. Nunez, who pitched for Lee’s Summit last spring, recorded a complete-game shutout against the Outlaws June 26, holding them to four hits and a walk while striking out seven in a 1-0 victory. Carpenter called one of the best outings he’d ever seen in his five years leading the Pirates.
“Saul has been on the team since 2011 and he’s always been one of our top-shelf pitchers,” Carpenter said. “But he took it to a whole other level that night. He’s a bulldog, and when a game is big he digs a little deeper.”
Now that most of their growing pains are behind them, Carpenter expects the rest of the Pirates to dig a little deeper and be a factor in Zone 2 West play. The Pirates finished second in the zone last season.
“I don’t know how much better we’ll be with the won-loss record, but I feel lot more confident in the direction we’re going than we were a couple of weeks ago,” Carpenter said.