by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The Rogers Royals snagged their 20th victory before falling one run short of the section finals Tuesday.
Spring Lake Park and pitcher Halley Jones rallied to beat the Royals 4-3 in the lower-bracket semifinals of Section 5AAA in Shoreview.
The Royals, who ousted Park Center 3-1 earlier in the day, finished 20-3 with two losses to Spring Lake Park in the playoffs, the other by 5-2.
Hoping for a shot at defending champion Maple Grove in the finals, the Royals instead went home with an impressive ledger, especially for such a young team.
“We had some ‘firsts’ this year,” coach Jerry Bruns said, rattling off the first conference championship, first 20-win season, highest winning percentage (.870) and longest win streak (10). “It was a really good season. It’s a step in the right direction.”
And it was accomplished with one senior, infielder Madison Anderson, one junior, catcher Maddie Mikolich, and the rest sophomores and freshmen in the starting lineup.
“You could say that means a bright future,” reflected Bruns, “but that depends on whether you work hard and keep playing and get better. You can’t stand pat, because third in the section is just third in the section.”
The Royals led Spring Lake Park 3-1 but couldn’t hold on.
“Give them credit. They got the big hits, they put down the bunts to move the runners along,” said Bruns, adding that the Panthers fielded solidly, too.
Jones, a freshman right-hander, beat the Royals twice. Rogers’ Emily Hanford, who had one big hit against her, said, “She mixes speeds really well and has very good location. She’s a good pitcher.”
In the season of firsts, it would not have been Rogers’ first state trip. The 2005 team went to state.
Royals 3, Park Center 1
Katelyn Kemmetmueller tossed a two-hitter with one walk and five strikeouts. The sophomore right-hander had a 3-0 lead before Miranda Jellison singled home a run for the Pirates in the sixth.
Hanford gave the Royals a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI single. The Royals went up 3-0 with some two-out action in the fourth. Kemmetmueller singled, stole second and scored on Ellie Anderson’s single inside third base. Anderson swiped second and scored on Kaitlyn Lloyd’s single.
Park Center’s Jillian Rosby limited the Royals to five hits and one walk, striking out seven.
Spring Lake Park 4, Royals 3
The Royals had Jones and the Panthers on the ropes in this one.
After falling behind 1-0, the Royals scored two in the third, keyed by Hanford’s double off the top of the center field fence that drove home the tying run with two outs. “I was able to get around on that one,” said Hanford. Kemmetmueller beat out an infielder roller, Hanford taking third. The Royals used a base running play to score the go-ahead run. Kemmetmueller feinted a steal of second, got herself in a hotbox, and eluded the tag long enough for Hanford to score first.
In the fifth, Jones walked two batters and Maddie Mikolich knocked one home with a looping single to right field. The Royals led 3-1.
But the Panthers, who had eight hits and six walks, kept the pressure on.
Royal freshman Melea Bruns, working with a lead, left bases loaded in the fourth, but got back in trouble in the fifth when three singles loaded the bases with two outs. This time, SLP got a couple of them home on a sharp single to left by Brianna Hatinen. The second runner might have been out but catcher Mikolich couldn’t hold the throw as the runner bumped into her.
Kemmetmueller relieved and got a strikeout to end the inning, but walked the leadoff batter in the sixth. After a sac bunt, Maddie Wallraff ripped a double down the left-field line to plate the go-ahead run.
The Panthers put runners at second and third in the seventh but right-fielder Sam Olejar got the Royals out of that jam by catching a medium-deep foul ball and throwing out the runner at home.
Jones finished the Royals with a 1-2-3 last of the seventh. She gave up five hits and five walks, striking out five.
Bruns went 4 2/3, giving up seven hits, three walks and three earned runs, with one strikeout. Kemmetmueller yeilded one hit, one walk and one run in 2 1/3 frames, striking out three, and took the loss. She was 2-for-3 at the plate.