A liner landed just beyond the reach of an outstretched shortstop.
Same for a foul pop up behind the catcher.
A bang-bang play at first base didn’t get the final out either.
Given the journey Royalton took to get to the moment, though, it hardly should come as a surprise that things didn’t wrap up easily.
Somehow, some way, a team that started the year playing shaky baseball at best and entered its sub-section as the seventh seed, navigated its way through five see-saw contests to reach the Section 5A finals.
It had to rally late just to win its preliminary game.
In two of the next three rounds, Royalton built big leads early, then had to hang on desperately late.
The game in between, and the one after, the Royals won by a single run – a 2-1 pitchers’ duel and an 8-7 thriller in which Royalton gave up a five-run lead, only to rally back.
Then, finally, Royalton had a chance to breathe a little in Thursday’s championship against PACT Charter held at Joe Faber Field in St. Cloud, rolling to a 13-6 win and on to state.
The Royals jumped out to a 10-1 lead by the second inning, keeping a healthy cushion midway through with an 11-2 edge after four.
PACT manufactured its greatest threat to get back in it during the fifth, but after picking up two runs and loading the bases with one out, sophomore Parker Brezinka came on in relief of freshman Nathan Pysck to allow just one more run.
Royalton quickly added two runs back onto its lead in the bottom of the inning as junior Brady Moulzolf blasted an RBI double, then scored on a single by senior Cade Stang to make it 13-5.
PACT managed one run in the top of the sixth, then, after a series of plays nearly ended things in the seventh, the Panthers were finally set down with the bases loaded, setting off the Royals’ celebration.
“Our expectations this year weren’t to win the sub-section and Section 5A title,” Royalton head coach Aaron Meier said. “If you would have told me that, I probably would have said ‘You’re crazy.’”
It was the second win in a row over PACT Charter for Royalton, following Monday’s 8-7 victory in the winners’ bracket final.
In that game, Stang and junior Jordon Smieja each went 2-for-2, with Stang scoring three runs and stealing a pair of bases while Smieja drove in two.
Brezinka also collected two RBIs, while sophomore Michael Petron and Psyck both added hits.
Brezinka went the distance on the mound, allowing only three earned runs.
Royalton held a 6-1 lead after three innings, but PACT came up with six runs in the top of the fourth to seize the lead.
The Royals answered back with a run in the bottom of the frame to tie it, then pushed what proved to be the game-winner across in the fifth.
“We may be down, but we’re never out,” Psyck said. “It’s not supposed to happen, it ends up just happening.”
“We’re never out of a game,” Brezinka said. “We always think it’s never the end until it’s over.”
“It definitely adds to the excitement, but my blood pressure is probably about 100 points over,” Stang said. “I definitely like it to be a better score, but you remember it more (when it’s close). I can’t complain. A win’s a win.”
PACT Charter got back to the finals by defeating Browerville 3-2 in Tuesday’s consolation bracket finals.
Had PACT been able to win the first game Thursday, a winner-take-all finale would have been held immediately after.
“The second game would have been too dramatic and they would have had the momentum,” Psyck said. “It would have been really tense.”
Royalton will now advance to the Class A state tournament, starting Thursday in Chaska.
The championship bracket semifinals will be held in Chaska, Friday, with the consolation semifinals in Jordan, Friday.
The consolation championship is Friday in Jordan and the third-place game is Friday in Chaska.
The championship game will be held at Target Field in Minneapolis, Saturday, June 13.
“We made it this far,” Brezinka said. “We might as well keep on going.”
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