Royals again face a tough draw at Class B amateur baseball state tournament
The Rochester Royals open the Class B state tournament against the Hamel Hawks on Saturday in Miesville. Defending state champion Chanhassen -- the team that eliminated the Royals a year ago -- looms in the second round.
ROCHESTER — If the Rochester Royals want to achieve their goal of winning a Class B amateur baseball state championship, they will need to get past Chanhassen in an early round to do so.
Chanhassen is the four-time defending Class B state champions and the Red Birds slipped past the Royals 2-1 in the second round a year ago on their way to another state crown.
If the Royals and Red Birds win their state openers this weekend, they will again clash in the second round. The first two rounds of the 16-team tournament are single elimination and after that the final four teams play a double-elimination format.
“It’s something you have to do sooner or later,” Royals player/manager Tim Oesterlin said of playing Chanhassen. “It would be nice to play them a little later in the double-elimination side of things.”
The Royals (27-8) open against the Hamel Hawks at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Miesville. The Royals are rated fifth in the state and Hamel is No. 12.
“We’re obviously going to focus and do everything we can to beat Hamel on Saturday because that’s really the only game that matters,” Royals player/manager Drew Block said. “If we end up playing Chanhassen, that would be great.”
Hamel is not a team the Royals know much about.
“So that’s a little bit of an unknown and a little scarier than usual,” Oesterlin said. “We’re familiar with a lot of the teams we play at state. So it will be a little different playing them.”
The Royals haven’t officially announced their starting pitcher for the state opener. But left-hander Matt Meyer (6-2, 1.69 ERA) is likely to get the start against Hamel. Matteo Finocchi (8-0, 1.89 ERA), another left-hander, has been the Royals’ No. 2 starter and he is also having a stellar season. Meyer is a former minor-league pitcher who reached the Triple-A level.
“You always have a chance when you throw one of our top two guys,” Block said. “You try to scrape (together) a few runs early and get a lead. It’s a lot easier to play that way.”
“I don’t think anyone really wants to play us and have to face Matt (Meyer),” Oesterlin said.
While the Royals have excelled at pitching and defense this season, they also have a very complete lineup.
Osterlin has been with the Royals since 2007 and he believes this might be the Royals' best and deepest squad in that time.
“We have guys on the bench who would probably start or play for a lot of other teams,” he said. “That kind of speaks to the talent and kind of team we have here. It’s a good group of guys all on the same page and pulling for the same thing right now.”
The Royals will have virtually all of their regular starting players on hand for the state opener. Joe Sperry, a 2021 Lourdes graduate, had to leave for college and he had provided depth at the plate and on the mound during the season.
“That’s a bummer because he’s a nice right-handed arm that would definitely be used throughout the tournament if we make a nice long run,” Block said.
The Royals have eight core players hitting .300 or better this season in Tate Meiners (.435 average, five homers, 23 RBIs), Block (.378, one homer, 28 RBIs), Nick Pearson (.376, two homers, 19 RBIs), Logan Milene (.363, four homers, 23 RBIs), Jake Halverson (.357, 12 RBIs), Michael Michalak (.349, four homers, 29 RBIs), Alex Holets (.330, one homer, 19 RBIs) and Nolan Jurgenson (.319, seven RBIs). Sam Warren is hitting .280 with three homers and 18 RBIs.
“We have a good mix of older guys and college players,” Block said. “We have a good group of core guys that now live in Rochester and are out of school. That makes it a little easier to write a lineup and not have to worry about kids going off to college.”
Right-handed pitchers Brevin Goetz, a 2021 Mayo grad, and Derek Lilledahl, a 2020 Triton grad, both pitched in the Northwoods League during the summer, but they are eligible to play in the state tournament with the Royals.
If the Royals win their state opener, they will face either Chanhassen or Coon Rapids in the second round at 11 a.m. on Aug. 27 in Miesville.