Royals' Skrukrud is at his best in state tournament
By Troy Young
Last year, Rochester Royals pitcher Mark Skrukrud pitched the first three games of the Class B state tournament and won all three. At state, Skrukrud pitched 26 innings, and allowed just two runs.
Should we be surprised that he's repeating that feat again this year?
Skrukrud, already 2-0 in state tournament play, will be the Royals starter when they face Jordan in the winners bracket Saturday morning in the Class B state tournament in Cold Spring. If Skrukrud would win Saturday, he'd improve his state tournament record to 6-0 over the last two years.
"The state tourney brings out the best in Mark," Royals player/manager Jeff Milene said. "He's a competitor and that's probably the biggest reason we go with him ahead of anybody else. With wood bats the way they are, base runners are at a premium. He just doesn't allow anybody to get a free pass."
If the Royals win Saturday, they'd be in the semifinals Sunday against the winner of Austin and Apple Valley. A win there, and Rochester would have to lose twice on Labor Day in order not to win the state title. "You want to play on Labor Day, that's the main thing," Milene said.
Saturday's game will be a pitching showcase. Jordan will start 41-year-old right-hander Tom Smith, who like Skrukrud, is 2-0 in this year's state tournament. Smith, whose fastball can hit the low 80s with good location, varies his pitching speeds well. He gave up just one run against Burnsville two weeks ago, then pitched an eight-inning shutout against Grand Rapids last weekend.
If the Royals and Austin win, the Southern Minny League would have the only two undefeated teams in the state tournament. Mankato is still alive in the losers bracket. "We had four teams in there with us, Austin, Waseca and Mankato," Milene said. "Going into the third weekend, there are three Southern Minny teams still in the hunt for the title, for the second year in a row."
The Royals underwent major turnover after last season. Several veterans retired, as the youth movement began. "I don't really think some of these kids really have idea of what's going on at the state tournament and the history of it," Milene said. "They don't understand it's a heckuva job to win state. If we win this tournament, we'll have five guys who think, 'Heck, this is easy.' "
Andy Larson will start the second game this weekend for the Royals.
The Royals expect their largest fan contingency Saturday morning in Cold Spring. Of course, the bar hasn't been set too high so far. Both Royals' state tournament games have been at 5 p.m. on Fridays, making it nearly impossible for fans to make the trip to St. Cloud. "It's hard enough to get the players there, let alone the fans," Milene said.
College junior Jesse Underbakke, of Canton, will be one of the starting offensive lineman for Air Force when it opens its season Saturday morning against Northwestern. The game will be regionally televised by ABC. Underbakke, at 6-3, 280 pounds, has looked sharp in training camp. "We call him 'Buddha' or Jesse 'The Body' Underbakke," Air Force quarterback Chance Harridge told a Colorado newspaper. "And we usually get a pre-practice rub on his belly. That usually brings good luck."
Rochester Golf &; Country Club's course was in stellar condition earlier this week for the Minnesota Golf Association Senior Amateur, won by Jerry Gruidl of Golden Valley, who finished seven over par after 54 holes. "The conditions of the course were great," MGA executive director Tom Ryan said. "We hope to come back. This is a great venue. We hope to be back here for senior events."
• In; 1970, the MGA State Amateur was played at Rochester G&CC.; Former Post-Bulletin sports writer Mike Fermoyle won the first of three state am titles. Eastwood's Tom Johnson was one of 16 players who competed in this week's Senior Am who also played in that tournament 32 years ago. The others were Ron Bakken (Bracket's Crossing CC), Richard Blooston (Edina CC), Bud Chapman (Minneapolis GC), George Chesley (Mankato GC), George Cliff (Mankato GC), Gruidl (Golden Valley CC), Jim Hall (Edina CC), Carson Herron (Wayzata CC), Tom Herron (Meadowbrook GC), Dennis Kowalski (Hiawatha GC), Rodney Magnuson (Keller GC), George McDonald (Luverne GC), Charles Olson (Oak Glen GC), Roy Pierzina (Meadowbrook GC) and Rick Radder (Edina CC).
Troy Young's local sports notebook runs every Thursday and Saturday. Young can be reached at email@example.com.