Royals on a Mission: South Royalton Sets Eyes on That Elusive Title
South Royalton’s Alex Berk jumps to high-five his teammates after scoring a run during yesterday’s win over Rochester in the Vermont Division IV semifinals. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
South Royalton coach Mike Ballou rallies his team during yesterday’s win over Rochester. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »
South Royalton's Darren Cilley slides safely back to first during their semifinal game against Rochester. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
South Royalton — David Ballou was the last one to leave the South Royalton School baseball dugout yesterday evening, reveling in the wake of the Royals’ 6-0 defeat of Rochester in a Vermont Division IV semifinal.
“When it got to about the fifth inning, I started counting outs,” said Ballou, a junior shortstop whose top-seeded team will face either No. 2 Mount St. Joseph or No. 3 Danville in the title game at Burlington’s Centennial Field this weekend.
Standing nearby, his dark hair plastered to his forehead by rain, South Royalton athletic director Jeff Morneo smirked in response.
“Let’s be honest, David,” Moreno said. “You’ve been counting outs since October.”
Ballou probably isn’t the only one. After losing to Danville in the semifinals each of the past two years, the Royals (16-1) are ready for their moment on the big stage. Nate Moore, a junior pitcher who allowed only two hits during 6 2∕ 3 innings of work yesterday, recalled the frustration of coming up short in 2012.
“I watched the championship (highlights) on the television news and it was hard to take,” said Moore, who struck out six Rockets and walked one. “Especially seeing Danville there after we lost to them in nine innings.”
The Indians won their second consecutive division crown last spring and their fifth since 2005. There’s no doubt South Royalton would like another postseason shot at Danville, which it beat 3-1 in mid-April, but whichever foe advances, it will have to deal with a fired-up bunch of Royals.
“We like to cheer everybody on and we get in other teams’ heads because they don’t like all the noise,” said a grinning Moore, referring to his team’s habit of standing, clapping and shouting from in front of its dugout for the game’s duration.
“We like to get riled up and rowdy and loud, because this is our favorite sport. We’re good at playing an up-tempo game and that goes along with our attitude.”
South Royalton didn’t get its offense cranking until the third inning, when it batted around. Number 9 hitter Keanan Thompson hit fly balls for the first and third outs.
Darren Cilley got the onslaught going when he was hit by a pitch from Rochester starter Derick Gendron for the second time in the game. Moore followed with a single that pushed Cilley to third base and caught the Rockets sleeping when he took second after a big turn around first and a pause.
Gendron also hit the next batter, Ballou, to load the bases. A Thomas Ingham sacrifice fly brought home Cilley and a Hunter Brock double down the left-field line plated Moore and Ballou.
Alex Berk followed with a single to score Brock and a fielding error allowed Troy Tracy to reach first. The inning’s scoring ended when righthanded batter Leif Johnson knocked a single down the right-field line to drive in Berk and produce a 5-0 lead.
“We got some timely hits,” said South Royalton coach Mike Ballou, whose team had four during the game. “If a pitch is outside, our guys are mostly good about poking it down the opposite line.”
Rochester’s pitching got an upgrade when Tanner Pratt took the mound in the fourth and retired the Royals in order. However, South Royalton got to him in the fifth, when leadoff man Ingham absorbed yet another pitch on the flesh, stole second and scored when he stole third and the catcher’s throw bounced into left field.
Moore’s hurling came to an end during the seventh, when he retired the first two batters but surrendered a double to Pratt on his 74th pitch. Mike Ballou, mindful of having his hurler go over a pitch limit that would have kept him off the mound for the title game, relieved him with Ingham, who induced a pop-up out with his first toss.
“Nate’s always had good control,” said Mike Ballou, who coached many of South Royalton’s current varsity players throughout youth baseball and with the Royals’ junior varsity. “He was a thrower who’s now becoming a real pitcher by setting batters up. He has confidence that if they do hit him, we’re going to make all the plays. We’ve got some real good defense behind him.”
Moore, who threw his second two-hitter and third shutout of the season, hurled his glove around the dugout after fouling out to the Rochester third baseman during the first inning. By the time he returned to pitching, however, he’d mellowed and was mowing the Rockets (12-6) down.
“My emotions were running wild and I let them go to my head, which was a little embarrassing,” Moore said. “You can’t overreact like that because the other teams sees it and you can take those at-bats with you to the mound.
“I knew I just had to focus on my job at the time, which was pitching.”
South Royalton must wait until today to discover whether it must target Danville (11-6) or MSJ (13-4) in the title game and when that contest will take place. The matchup will be either Friday or Saturday, depending on the participating schools’ graduations. The Royals’ ceremony is Saturday morning.
“We’ve graduated and then played before, but it leads to a lot of grumpy parents,” Mike Ballou said. “They buy all that food for their parties, and then we don’t get home until 10 or 11 at night.”
If the Royals can count down the outs to a championship, one suspects spoiled potato salad and soggy potato chips will be overlooked.
Tris Wykes can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3227.