It looked like the batter was going to be out.
But a dropped fly ball made him safe.
Then it looked like the base runner was going to be out.
But on a close play at second base he was ruled safe.
Except, he thought he was out, and proceeded to get tagged out in a rundown.
In the end, the goofy late-inning sequence snuffed out Royalton’s last chance to get to Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) sophomore starting pitcher Justin Cichon, Monday, as Cichon tossed a four-hit shutout, striking out eight in a 1-0 win for the host Patriots.
With a runner at first base and one out, a seemingly routine fly ball turned into an adventure when it was dropped, leaving the base runner to have to scramble to try to beat a force play at second.
The runner looked to be out, therefore started toward the dugout, and couldn’t get back to the bag after he was surprisingly ruled safe, thwarting the Royals’ last opportunity to score.
“Our base runner was caught in ‘no man’s land’ between first and second base,” Royalton head coach Aaron Meier said. “The umpire badly missed the call, so badly that our runner didn’t even think twice about stopping at second base because it was a clear force out.
“It was a bit frustrating because it was an opportunity where we could hopefully have capitalized on one of USA’s mistakes,” he said. “Mistakes happen, umpires make mistakes too, and I told the guys to just keep playing and move on.”
That they did, maneuvering out of a big jam in the bottom half of the inning when the Patriots looked like they might break the game open.
With the bases loaded and one out, Royalton turned to freshman Nathan Psyck in relief, who proceeded to get a strikeout and fly out from the heart of the Patriots order to keep it a one-run game.
The Royals weren’t able to capitalize in the seventh, though, as Cichon slammed the door and capped off a 64-pitch complete-game outing.
“Justin has pitched very well considering he is only a sophomore,” USA head coach Adam Gerads said. “His ERA is currently 2.50. He won’t overpower anybody, but he is a very smart pitcher and knows how to get people out. Plus, he has that attitude you need as a pitcher. He doesn’t let things bother him. When he is on the mound, we know he is going to give us a chance to win every time.”
Royalton’s defense was key in keeping the game close, throwing out a pair of runners at the plate.
The Patriots finally broke through in the fifth, though, with junior Kyle Soltis singling home senior Eric Lampert for the game’s only run.
Lampert ended up reaching base three times, with sophomore Chase Douvier and Cichon each adding a hit.
It was the second time USA shut out the Royals on the season, but a far more competitive match-up than the Patriots’ 6-0 season-opening win, when Lampert struck out 17 batters in a one-hitter.
“We felt like we played better, but it wasn’t hard compared to our first game … anytime your team is striking out more than half of the outs in a game, you’re not giving yourself much of a chance to win,” Meier said.
Sophomore Parker Brezinka started for Royalton, allowing just one run over 5 1/3 innings.
Juniors Brady Moulzolf and Kyle Billmeyer and freshman Michael Petron collected the Royals’ three hits.
USA stages back-to-back rallies versus Melrose, LFBF
USA came away with a pair of non-conference wins at Freeport, May 3, knocking off Melrose Area 8-6 before defeating Little Fork-Big Falls (LFBF) 9-5.
USA rallied from a 3-2 deficit after three innings against Melrose to score the next six runs, including a solo homer by Soltis in the fifth inning.
Melrose trimmed the gap to 8-6 with a three-run homer in the seventh, but Tyler Evans came on in relief of junior winning pitcher Austin Johnson to shut the door and earn the save.
Cichon, Soltis, Johnson, Douvier and freshman Myron Ripplinger all had two hits, with Douvier scoring three runs and Soltis and Ripplinger both knocking in two.
USA had to rally again in its second contest of the day, erasing an early 5-0 deficit by scoring nine unanswered to close the game.
Lampert provided the big jolt with a homer in the third inning, and along with Cichon, Evans, Kyle Soltis and freshman Lane Soltis had multi-hit games.
Sophomores Andrew Kulla and Cody Wensmann and Ripplinger also had hits and each knocked in a run.
Browerville, LPGE fluster Patriots late
For the second time this season, visiting USA saw a game against Browerville end in frustrating fashion in a 3-2 defeat, May 2.
The Patriots took a 2-0 lead with an RBI single by Evans in third and a run-scoring base hit by Cichon in the fourth, but the Tigers evened the score with a pair in the bottom of the fourth.
Lampert, who started and struck out 12 on the afternoon, retired the first two batters in the seventh, but Browerville’s third batter of the inning reached on an error, then scored after the ensuing batter dropped down a bunt that led to an errant throw past the first baseman.
Cichon finished 3-for-4, Kulla had a pair of hits and scored a run and Lampert reached in all four of his plate appearances.
Earlier in the spring, Browerville tied a game in the seventh on a missed double-play opportunity that would have ended the game, then prevailed in extra innings.
It was a similar story Tuesday, as USA took unbeaten Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (LPGE) to extra innings, but couldn’t tag the visiting Thunder with their first loss in a 3-0 defeat in eight innings.
The Patriots had ample opportunities in regulation, but stranded nine runners and saw a potential three-run homer by Lampert knocked down by strong winds.
Lampert finished with three hits, Cichon had a pair and Ripplinger drew two walks.
Despite the frustration of not being able to upend top Prairie Conference foes, and in Browerville’s case a section favorite, they are part of the learning process for a young team.
“With such a young team, I believe not being able to practice outside really affected us,” Gerads said. “The LPGE game was just a very good baseball game that was well played by both teams. We just lacked a big hit that game. We have a ways to go to where I want us to be come playoff time, but I feel we are taking strides in the right direction and improving every day. We still could be better in all facets of the game.
“Those first three close losses hurt our confidence a bit,” he said. “At the same time, we knew we were good enough to win those games. We have a tough-minded group that wants to get better and isn’t ever satisfied. I think the way we have been playing lately is a good sign that their hard work is starting to pay off. They will keep working. Our goal is to be playing our best ball come playoff time. We’ve got a ways to go, but we are headed in the right direction.”
Royals thump Eagle Valley twice, nearly upset Tigers
Royalton’s offense caught fire early and didn’t cool off in a home doubleheader versus Eagle Valley, May 1, sweeping a pair 14-4 and 14-8.
Senior Cade Stang, sophomore Jason Fussy, Petron, Moulzolf, Psyck and Brezinka all had multi-hit games in the opener, with Psyck scoring four runs and knocking in two, Brezinka driving in three runs and Moulzolf scoring twice.
Junior Jordon Smieja added a hit and two RBIs, while Brezinka earned the complete-game win on the mound.
The finale was more of the same, with Moulzolf and Stang each going 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
Psyck doubled twice and senior Matt Presler, Petron, Brezinka also added two hits apiece.
“The offensive outburst with Eagle Valley was nice to see, along with good for our confidence,” Meier said. “Up until the WCA (West Central Area) game (a 13-2 win) and Eagle Valley doubleheader, we were struggling a bit with our hitting. Hitting is contagious, and that sure showed with these three games.”
After nearly knocking off USA, Royalton came close to handing early section frontrunner Browerville a loss, Tuesday, but couldn’t hold a seventh-inning lead in a 5-3 home defeat.
The Royals led 3-1 going into the seventh, but Browerville used a couple of walks, an error and a squeeze bunt to push across four runs and steal the win.
“The game with Browerville was a very well-played game,” Meier said. “This game was especially tough on the guys because we led the entire game except for the final score.
“Things seemed to snowball in the seventh and we just couldn’t recover quick enough,” he said. “What we did learn is that we’re definitely improving and if we play well, we can play with anyone in our section.”
Stang went 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI to lead the Royals, with Petron, Moulzolf, Brezinka, Smieja and Billmeyer also collecting hits.
Royalton also had the unenviable task of taking on unbeaten and Class AA’s 10th-ranked Osakis, May 2, falling 12-0 in five innings at home.
Psyck doubled and Stang and Moulzolf had singles for the Royals.