As Buffalo’s Jordan Zrust closed her glove around the final out of the Bison’s 3-2 victory over Rogers to advance to the state tournament, the Royals dugout, which had been so vibrant all year, turned silent.
The Royals went 23-3 on the season, losing just once in the regular season and twice to Buffalo in the section tournament to end the miraculous run that many speculated would take the team to Mankato, the location of the state tournament.
“The best thing about playing on this year’s team is seeing how well we have developed together and been able to reach our team goals together,” Royals center fielder Maddie Thiebault said before the section tournament began.
The Royals used the motto “one game at a time,” as the season progressed and the wins column crept to a bigger and bigger number while the loss number stayed at zero. On April 30, the Royals dropped their first game to North St. Paul in a Saturday tournament. Still, members of the Royals left the game behind them and returned to their winning ways.
The team entered the section tournament with the No. 1 seed and a 19-1 record, setting its sights on representing the section in the Class 4A state tournament. After breezing by Moorhead and St. Michael-Albertville with 10-0 victories in each game, Buffalo arrived in Rogers ready for revenge.
The Bison won the game 4-1, marking the Royals’ first home loss since April 14, 2015 (also to the Bison). Rogers fought back against the Elks and Bison the next two games (Read here for more on those gameshttp://erstarnews.com/2016/06/03/rogers-softball-survives-2-elimination-games-sits-1-win-from-state-berth/), which set up a “winner takes all” game between the Bison and Royals — the teams’ fifth season matchup of the season, and third in the section tournament alone.
“I’m proud of my team for bouncing back,” Royals shortstop and pitcher Katelyn Kemmetmueller said. “After losing last Tuesday, we were able to come back on Thursday and force a game two with Buffalo to get to the section championship. All year we were able to pick each other up and every game someone else stepped up and led the team.”
The team was counting on Kemmetmueller in Friday’s championship game as she took the mound in the second inning. As she warmed up, the team was already down 3-1 after a couple walks by starting pitcher Melea Bruns and a couple errors in the field (two total) forced head coach Jerry Bruns to make the switch to Kemmetmueller.
Buffalo’s Morgan DeMarais was brilliant in Friday’s win, as she and Kemmetmueller battled back and forth on the mound, striking up a pitcher’s duel that kept the game moving despite the threat of a thunderstorm peering out to the West.
Rogers’ Olivia Olson scored in the bottom of the first, but DeMarais held the Royals in check, allowing just two hits from innings 2 through 6. The Royals came to bat in the bottom of the seventh needing two runs to extend the game and possibly send the team the state.
Krysta Felber started the rally in the bottom of the seventh with a single. Bruns reached on a walk after two other Royals batters recorded outs in the inning. Kemmetmueller became the winning runner, and she stepped to the plate and looped a single to right-center field that scored Felber and sent Bruns, the tying run, to third. Kemmetmueller stole her second base of the game to advance her to second base, where Royals first baseman Emily Hanford had a chance to give her team the win. She made great contact on her final at-bat in a Royals jersey, but unfortunately for RHS, Zrust was there to secure the final out and send the Bison to the state tournament for the second straight season.
While Kemmetmueller, Olson and Elli Anderson are among the Royals seniors who will continue their softball careers in college, many members of the team reflected after the game, laughing about the good memories through the years that came with playing their last high school game.
Kemmetmueller talked about how she would miss the bus rides home from games where the girls would always listen to music.
“One thing I will miss about high school softball is my teammates,” Kemmetmueller said. “Most of us grew up playing together. We have spent our summer ball seasons and high school seasons with each other for years and it will be hard knowing I won’t get to step on to the field with them again.”