In two weeks (Monday, April 22, 2019), we kick off our Extra Elite Eighty 14U Club Rankings and today we focus on a relatively new team to watch at that age division that, in a short amount of time, has made some waves in the club scene.
The growth of a team to national success is always an interesting story and the Ohio Outlaws 2023 team is no exception.
Two years ago, Mike Johnson had assembled the RoadRunners out of Zanesville, Ohio and had such impressive success the team was invited to join Warren Wolfe’s Outlaws program.
In the last year, starting in May 2018, the Outlaws have compiled a 60-6-3 mark including six 1st place championships and two 2nd place titles including a stretch of 33 straight wins.
The team features a deep pitching staff and a potent offense that averages over .400 collectively with plenty of runs scored including four players who each drove in 45 or more RBIs including a whopping 84 by Abby Bode.
The team is balanced, deep with utility athletes and play a high-level schedule.
Here’s more on the team’s short history, but abundant successful performances at top events, in our exclusive interview with Head Coach Mike Johnson…
When did the team/program start and how/why did it come to be?
The Ohio Outlaws organization has been around for many years and has built a reputation as one of the most competitive travel softball organizations in the country. The Outlaws Johnson 2023 team formed at the beginning of the 2016/2017 season when I was approached by the organization due to the success we had as the RoadRunners, which is a local Zanesville, Ohio travel organization.
Where are you based and where do your athletes come?
We are based in Zanesville, Ohio where the team typically practices. We have girls from all over the Buckeye State including: Cincinnati, Dayton area, Westerville, Gahanna, Zanesville and one player from West Virginia.
What was the purpose of creating the team (showcase players, win titles, develop skills, etc.)?
The primary purpose of the team is to develop young ladies for the next level in life and in softball. Our kids have goals to play Div. I softball and we’ve put together a competitive team of like-minded individuals with the right mix of skills and attitudes. This mix of talent has had great success on and off the field. Our girls are competitive in the classroom and on the field and we expect them to win at both.
What have been some of your successes in terms of winning or placing at events?
The 2018 12U season was a breakout for the team. We went 60-6-3 with six 1st place championships and two 2nd places finishes. We finished runner-up in the PGF Eastern Nationals, coming up short against a very strong TN Fury team in an international tie breaker. Our schedule was very challenging including the Stingrays Showcase (PGF), Super Midwest Championships (USSSA), Outlaw Invitational (USSSA) among others.
What makes the organization unique?
The organization is very well recognized when we travel to tournaments and to college camps. The reputation of producing quality young ladies, quality teams and getting kids to the next level would be some of the unique aspects of our organization. As for our team, we have an eclectic group but they all have a common purpose and focus when it comes to this sport. Our girls have a very high softball IQ, therefore the coaches are able to spend more time on game strategy and keeping the energy positive. We reinforce the positive (on the spot) and we teach (on the spot) when we see teachable moments. Our coaches are not big on pre/post game speeches and tend to put the spotlight on the kids whenever possible.
What are your coaches’ softball backgrounds and how did you all get to the point of being with this team?
I played multiple sports growing up including baseball and started umpiring softball about 20 years ago. I began coaching my daughter in tee ball when she was 5 and have been coaching travel programs ever since starting with the RoadRunners. Coach Kobe Johnson has been coaching alongside me since he was a teenager and he continues to help his dad on the field with aspirations of being a full-time coach at some point. Coach Moe Wilkinson joined the program during the team’s second year with the Outlaw organization. He too played multiple sports growing up including college baseball and he brings head coaching experience. All of the coaches have learned through the ACE training program, by watching the game constantly and from other coaches at the collegiate and competitive travel level.
Has there been a key moment or defining experience in the team's history?
In the Fall of 2017, we assembled our team with several returning players and five new players. It took a while for the kids to gel and for the coaching staff to understand the best positions to put the kids in to be successful. The turning point came during our first Spring Tournament in May of 2018 which was the Super Elite Midwest Championship in Michigan. Our team played extremely well and we won 1st place against teams from the East, Midwest and California. The girls played extremely well and rattled off 33 straight victories from the start of that tournament. The kids gained a lot of confidence from winning that first competitive tournament which set the tone for the rest of the season.