A sixth-seeded team faces an uphill battle from the opening pitch of the playoffs if it wants to contend for a sub-section title.
Try to knock off the third seed in the first round? Difficult, but manageable.
Then take down the No. 2 team in the semifinals? That’s asking quite a bit.
After that, still have enough left to overcome the No. 1 team? Almost unheard of.
But that’s what the Royalton baseball team accomplished, knocking off No. 3 Hinckley-Finlayson and No. 2 Isle before finally eclipsing top-seeded Braham 2-1 to capture the Sub-Section 5A East title and advance to the section tournament.
Royalton 2, Braham 1
Having already overachieved to reach Thursday’s sub-section finals, Royalton refused to settle in for a runner-up finish, taking an aggressive approach from the start against Braham at Pierz Legion Park.
The Royals put three of their first four runners on base, scoring the game’s opening run when junior Noah Farrell singled home freshman Brady Moulzolf.
Braham escaped the inning with no further damage after Royalton advanced runners to second and third with one out, but found little success early on trying to pull even against Royals junior starting pitcher Matt Silbernick.
The Bombers advanced their leadoff batter to third with no outs in the bottom of the third, but after a groundout back to Silbernick, Braham’s base runner was caught leaving early on an apparent squeeze play and picked off to thwart the rally.
However, after the Royals were set down in order for the third consecutive inning, Braham capitalized on a leadoff three-base error to knot the score at 1-1.
Royalton wouldn’t waste anytime regaining control as senior Brandon Lattimer pulled a deep liner just inside the left-field foul pole for a leadoff home run in the top of the fifth to give the Royals the lead back at 2-1.
Braham threatened to once again even the score or perhaps take the lead in the bottom of the frame, getting back-to-back hits from the bottom of its lineup before asking its leadoff man to bunt.
Silbernick fielded the ball and appeared to throw the lead runner out at third, but instead the runner was ruled safe and the bases were loaded with no outs and the heart of the order due up.
But Silbernick stifled yet another threat, recording a strikeout and fielder’s choice following a hard-charging catch by Farrell in center to preserve the lead.
After working around a one-out error in the sixth, Silbernick picked up the first two outs in the seventh before Braham kept the game alive with a single.
With a 2-0 count on the next batter, senior Steve Hoff was called upon in relief and nailed down the final out on one pitch to seal the 2-1 victory.
Silbernick went 6 2/3 innings to notch his second win of the playoffs, scattering seven hits and striking out nine without issuing a walk. The only run he allowed was unearned.
Senior Tyler Sieben went 2-for-3 with a stolen base, with Farrell and Lattimer collecting the Royals’ other hits.
Royalton will now advance to take on Browerville in the Section 5A playoffs at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud, Monday at 7 p.m.
With a win, the Royals would advance to Thursday’s section championship with two chances to win and advance to state against either Browerville, Braham or St. John’s Prep.
With a loss, Royalton would take on the winner between Braham and St. John’s Prep, Tuesday, for a chance to play in Thursday’s final, where it would need two wins to qualify for state.