'There's no gimme': Royals desperate to earn return trip to state
The Rochester Royals will play the Elko Express in a best-of-3 Section 1B playoff series with the winner earning a Class B state berth in amateur baseball.
ROCHESTER — This is what the Rochester Royals have been waiting for all season, a chance to earn a berth in the Class B amateur baseball state tournament.
After going 24-8 during the regular season, the Royals are the No. 2 seed in the Section 1B playoffs and will face the No. 5 Elko Express in a best-of-3 first-round series. The Royals host the first game at 8 p.m. Friday at Hudson Field. The winner of the series earns a Class B state berth, one of four up for grabs out of Section 1B.
“The goal all year has been to get back to state,” Royals player/manager Tim Oesterlin said. “The new season starts now and the team is pretty focused and locked in. And it’s been a fun year.”
The Royals defeated Elko 6-3 and 10-0 during the regular season, but they are not taking the Express lightly. Section 1B is among the best sections in the state.
“The hard part of this section is there’s no gimme team,” Royals pitcher Matt Meyer said. “Every section team you play is capable of beating any team on any given day. I think our section, top to bottom, has to be one of the best if not the best in the state.”
During the 2021 state tournament, the Section 1B teams went 3-1 in the first round with the loss being a 1-0 affair.
The left-handed Meyer, a former minor league pitcher, figures to pitch the bulk of the series opener for the Royals. They have used an “opener” for several games this season in which Meyer enters beginning in the third or fourth inning.
“Odds are we’ll throw Matt in game one and if we go to game three have him on the back end on short rest,” Oesterlin said.
Meyer has a 5-2 record with one save and a 1.88 ERA.
“They’ve got great bats, they’ve got a young pitching staff and guys who can throw hard,” Meyer said of the Express. “It will be a good series, it will be fun. They’re gamers, they come to play.”
Alex Rudquist and Joe Sperry are possible openers if the Royals go that route.
“Both of those arms will be ready to go and we’ll have to use them at some point,” Oesterlin said.
Left-hander Matteo Finocchi (7-0, 2.14 ERA) is Rochester’s other top starter. If Meyer starts the first game, Finocchi would pitch in the second game at 2 p.m. Sunday in Elko.
“Obviously Matt and Mateo give us a really good chance to win every game they throw,” Oesterlin said.
Palmer Mickelson and lefty Erik Thorvilson are two other pitchers who could be used in relief.
While the Royals have had stellar pitching much of the season, they have also scored nine or more runs in 14 of their 32 games.
“Offensively we’ve swung the bats really well all year from top to bottom,” Oesterlin said. “From Mike (Michalak) all the way down to Nolan (Jurgenson).”
Some of the offensive leaders include Tate Meiners (.435 average, five homers, 20 RBIs), Michalak (.356, four homers, 28 RBIs), Nick Pearson (.364, two homers, 18 RBIs), Drew Block (.362, one homer, 25 RBIs), Logan Milene (.360, four homers, 20 RBIs), Jake Halverson (.333, 10 RBIs), Alex Holets (.330, one homer, 18 RBIs), Sam Warren (.281, three homers, 18 RBIs) and Jurgenson (.308, five RBIs).
“It’s a pretty good group and they grind out at-bats,” Oesterlin said. “And we’ve had a lot of big hits this year.”
Other best-of-3 series involving Section 1B teams are No. 1 Miesville vs. No. 7 Hampton and No. 3 New Market vs. No. 4 Dundas. The series winners all earn state berths. The three losing teams will play in a redemption round with the winner earning a state berth. The two lowest seeds will face off in a semifinal game and then play at the higher seed in the title game.
“Ideally we take care of business in the first series,” Meyer said, “but there’s always so many good teams in the section.”
Section 1B playoffs
Who: No. 2 Rochester Royals vs. No. 5 Elko Express.
At stake: The winner of the best-of-3 series earns a Class B state berth. The series loser has another shot for a state berth in a three-team redemption round.
The schedule: Game 1: Express at Royals, 8 p.m. Friday at Hudson Field; Game 2: Royals at Elko, 2 p.m. Sunday; Game 3: Express at Royals, 8 p.m. Tuesday at Mayo Field.