The 2016 softball season for the Royals started against the St. Michael-Albertville Knights on a cold rainy day in the beginning of April. Katelyn Kemmetmueller pitched and Emily Hanford and Alexis Fehr had two RBI apiece in the Royals’ 4-0 win.
The two teams met for the third time on Thursday afternoon in the Section 8-4A winners bracket semifinals. Kemmetmueller was on the mound for the Royals once again, and the Royals bats exploded in the fourth inning en route to a 10-0 win over the Knights to advance to the winners bracket section finals against the Bison.
The Bison and the Royals are familiar foes, playing twice this season and battling back and forth atop the Mississippi 8 the past few years. Rogers has won both contests this year by one run. On April 22, the Royals traveled to Bentfield Mills City Park and defeated the Bison 5-4 in a back-and-forth battle of two great offenses. On May 12, the defenses and pitching took over the game for both teams, as the Royals won 1-0 in front of the home fans.
“(We have to) play loose,” head coach Jerry Bruns said. “When things get tough you have to have a reference point to look back and say I have done this before. Our players have a reference point to look back at.”
Tough times have been few and far between for the 21-1 Royals who have shutout 10 of their last 12 opponents. One of the few tough spots for the team came in the Royals’ first matchup against the Bison when Buffalo scored three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning to take a 3-1 lead. Bruns reminded his team after that inning to play loose and to do the little things that have been successful all season. Rogers scored three runs the next half inning and wound up winning 5-4. It is one of just two games (the other coming in the team’s lone loss) where an opponent has scored more than two runs on the Royals all season.
Bruns credited the 7-8-9 hitters for the one of the many reasons the team has been successful this season. The combination of Kaitlynn Lloyd, Krysta Felber, Alexis Fehr and Coral Anderson have held down those spots all year for Rogers, including scoring five of the team’s 10 runs again Moorhead and four of the 10 runs Thursday against the Knights.
“That’s hard for a pitcher,” Bruns said. “Most pitchers are used to thinking they can get the six, seven, eight and nine hitters out in any lineup.”
Kemmetmueller struck out seven batters in the first three innings (eight total) and gave up just two hits on 69 pitches (53 strikes).
The Royals had 13 hits in the win, including three from No. 2 hitter Melea Bruns and No. 9 hitter Coral Anderson. Bruns drove in three runs while Anderson, Felber, Lloyd, Elli Anderson and Olivia Olson all drove in one apiece.
“It felt awesome,” Anderson said about getting the start for Thursday’s game. “It felt good to contribute to our team, especially during sections.”
Although the Bison and Royals will face off in the winners bracket finals on June 31, both teams will still play another game later in the week due to the double-elimination format of the section tournament. Four games will take place at Rogers High School on May 31, as the Royals and Bison will play, along with three games in the consolation bracket. The loser of the Bison/Royals game will move into the semifinals of the consolation bracket, with a chance to play in the “what if game.” If the “what if game” goes to the team from the consolation bracket, the two teams then face off again for a second time to see who advances to the state tournament from section 8-4A. The rest of the games for the section will all take place at Rogers High School with the games on May 31 starting at 4 and 6 p.m.
Members of the Royals know that beating a team three times in one season like they did on Thursday afternoon is no small feat, and that they will have another challenge when Buffalo comes to seek revenge.
“We have to keep our bats going like we have had them lately,” Anderson said. “Just like Coach Jerry told us after the game, we can’t be too uptight. We just have to stay loose and play the game that we know how to play.”