The run differential for Royalton’s first three games of the season was 40-8.
Royalton had the eight.
In one of those games, the Royals had one hit and struck out 17 times.
In another, they got walloped 20-3 by a team that would finish with a losing record.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that, no, a sub-section championship wasn’t exactly expected early on this spring.
But that’s what Royalton polished off Wednesday, capping a stunning run through the Sub-Section 5A West bracket by defeating Upsala-Swanville Area (USA) 9-5 in Cold Spring, putting the Royals potentially two wins away from the state tournament.
“If you would have told me at that time what would be happening now, I would have never fathomed that,” Royalton head coach Aaron Meier said. “But the kids keep showing up and they’ve got good attitudes, are fun to work with and eager to learn.”
What the youthful seventh-seeded Royals squad learned was how to pull out some dramatic close wins right off the bat, rallying past visiting 10th-seeded Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg 9-7 in a preliminary game, May 22.
Freshman Nathan Pysck went 3-for-4 with five RBIs, including a three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, while also earning the win in relief.
Sophomore Michael Petron finished with two hits, sophomore Jason Fussy had a hit and two walks and senior Cade Stang drove in a run.
The Royals then had to hit the road, traveling to second-seeded Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, May 23, needing a win just to enter the double elimination portion of the tournament.
Royalton built a big lead early, then held on late for an 8-7 triumph.
Psyck earned the win for the second day in a row on the mound, allowing just two earned runs over six innings.
The previous day’s starter, sophomore Parker Brezinka, worked around a hit, walk and hit batter to pitch a scoreless seventh and pick up the save.
Not bad for a pair of underclassmen pitchers on the playoff stage.
“You wonder if they even know any better because they’re so green,” Meier said. “They’re young for their grades, really young even to be a sophomore and a freshman. They’re doing a very nice job for us.
“We’ve got a really nice crop of young kids, but you just don’t expect (them) to contribute the way we’ve had,” Meier said.
Not satisfied with a pair of one-run victories, Royalton churned out a third by a 2-1 margin over sixth-seeded Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in Cold Spring, Tuesday.
Brezinka went the distance, tossing a three-hitter while giving up just one unearned run.
Stang doubled and juniors Brady Moulzolf and Jordon Smieja also had hits for Royalton, which benefitted from three line drives turned into double plays.
“Just like any good team, to advance to sections or to the state tournament even, you have to be a little bit lucky,” Meier said.
With that win, the Royals reached the sub-section finals to take on USA, which had also pulled off a few upsets to get there.
After having been shut out by the Patriots during two regular-season meetings, Royalton jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first.
USA bounced back with a run in the bottom of the inning on a sacrifice fly by junior Kyle Soltis, and while it couldn’t level the score there, showed signs that it could later.
That changed quite a bit midway through the night, when Royalton broke the game open with four runs in the top of the fifth, then piled on another three in the top of the sixth.
That cushion would prove instrumental, as USA wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Junior Andrew Kulla delivered a two-run single, sophomore Chase Douvier lined a two-run double and all of a sudden, the Patriots had the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate.
Meier turned to Brezinka in relief of Psyck, who worked 5 2/3 innings in registering his third win of the playoffs, a day after he pitched a complete-game.
In batting practice before the game, Brezinka turned to Meier and said, “You know, if you need me a couple innings, I can pitch a couple innings.”
More importantly, Brezinka could pitch effectively, getting a fly out to get out of a jam, then stranding another two runners in the seventh to pick up his second save of the playoffs.
Royalton will now advance to take on PACT Charter in Monday’s winners’ bracket final at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud at 7 p.m.
The winner of that contest will advance on to Thursday’s section championship game at Faber Field, where it would need to win only one of two contests to qualify for state.
The loser will drop into the consolation bracket and play again Tuesday, with a chance to move on to Thursday’s final.
“We’re gaining confidence with every game,” Meier said. “Every game that we keep winning is gravy. We’ll take it. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and we’re excited about our chances going into next week.”
USA wins first two, but after loss to Royals is eliminated by Browerville
Fifth-seeded USA knocked off higher seeds in its first two playoff games before its postseason run ran out of steam.
Senior Eric Lampert earned complete-game victories in both contests, starting with a 7-1 victory at fourth-seeded Kimball Area, May 23.
After going through four scoreless innings, USA set up a pivotal fifth with pesky small ball, then whacked Kimball with a deep drive and one last bunt for good measure.
Sophomore Cody Wensmann reached to lead off the fifth inning, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Chase Douvier when Kimball tried to get the force at second but couldn’t when the Cubs’ second baseman was ruled off the bag.
The lineup then turned back over to the top, with sophomore Justin Cichon placing a bunt just out of the reach of the pitcher up the third-base line for a hit to load the bases.
Junior Tyler Evans capitalized by singling in a run through a drawn-in left side of the infield, followed by a two-run double to deep left by Lampert.
The Patriots scored two more runs in the inning on a squeeze bunt from junior Austin Johnson and a base hit by freshman Myron Ripplinger.
The score remained 5-0 until the bottom of the sixth, when the Patriots’ defense threatened to allow Kimball back into the game.
The Cubs filled the bases with one out with a pair of errors sandwiched around a single.
Lampert came back with a strike out for the second out, but a potential inning-ending grounder was misplayed for another error, breaking up the shutout and bringing the tying run to the plate.
That would be all Kimball would muster, as catcher Cichon fielded a slow roller in front of the plate and stepped on home for the force out, quelling the rally.
USA got that run, and one more, right back in the top of the seventh, as Ripplinger and Wensmann knocked in Soltis and Johnson with RBI grounders.
Lampert finished things off quickly in the bottom of the seventh to seal the win.
Lampert took to the mound again in Tuesday’s second round against top-seeded Browerville, where USA avenged a pair of gut-wrenching regular season losses with a 3-2 win in nine innings in Cold Spring.
The score was tied at 1-1 through eight innings when Soltis crushed an RBI double to left-center to bring home Evans, then scored himself on an RBI double by Johnson.
Browerville staged a comeback threat in the bottom of the ninth, scoring a run and getting the tying man aboard, but Lampert slammed the door to finish off the complete-game win.
Cichon went 3-for-5 and Douvier and Johnson each had two hits.
“This was a fun game to be a part of,” USA head coach Adam Gerads said. “Eric pitched great, we played great defense and we came through with some clutch hits when we needed them the most. I am proud of the way our kids played.”
After falling to Royalton, USA couldn’t duplicate Tuesday’s success against Browerville, falling 8-2 in a rematch in an elimination game, Thursday.
Coverage of that game and the continuation of the Section 5A tournament will be in next week’s Record.