Royals hoping to stay tough in first Regionals

·4 min read

May 26—SCRANTON — Tyler Kirsten's career day will never belong completely to him.

The University of Scranton shortstop is plenty OK with that fact, too. Getting a career-high four hits is one thing, of course. Getting them to spark the biggest win in program history in a winner-take-all Game 3 of the Landmark Conference championship series against Elizabethtown is something completely different. Something quite a bit more special.

"It was a great feeling, especially to get the win for the team," the Wallenpaupack product said. "To win our first conference championship, it was truly something special. Just going out there seeing what you can do, when that results in a win, it's the best feeling in the world."

This season has been about building those feelings as a team. This weekend, he and the Royals will look for some even better ones.

The Landmark champions will play their first game in the NCAA Division III Regionals at noon on Thursday when they face St. Thomas (MN) at St. John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota, looking not just to play spoiler but to keep building on a season that has been nothing if not resilient.

The same Elizabethtown team they outlasted for the title took three of four games in their season-opening series in March. But recovering from a bit of disappointment has been this team's trademark.

"I think it's just the bond we have as a team," Royals pitcher and former Pittston Area star Hunter Ralston said. "We know we're never out of the game, just because of how hard we fight and how we practice. We know how good we are."

Since that season-opening series, head coach Mike Bartoletti's Royals have proven to be a tough team to break. Four times, they lost the first game of a doubleheader only to come back and win the second; they lost the second game of a twinbill after winning the first just once.

Even in the title series, they were outraced by the Blue Jays, 13-7, in the first game before fighting back to win the next two behind dazzling starts from ace right-hander Daniel Johnson in game two and Dallas High School standout Josh Lydon in Sunday's decisive third tilt.

"In October, the first time we were in practice, I said that I want us to be the toughest team," Bartoletti said. "I don't want us to necessarily have the most talent, but I want us to be the toughest team. I think we've won those tough games. We've battled back.

"I think that shows the character and toughness of these guys."

They'll need to be as undeterred in a particularly difficult Collegeville region filled with teams that span the nation.

Chapman University, the 2019 Division III national champion out of Orange, California, is in the bracket as the No. 5 seed. Texas-Dallas is the red-hot No. 2 seed, and No. 4-seed Pacific University will travel in from Oregon. But the Royals' immediate threat is St. Thomas, a No. 1 seed that didn't win its league championship series but will move to the NCAA Division I level next season.

The Tommies (29-7) won 12 in a row before being stunned in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships by St. Mary's University. They allowed five runs or more in all four games of the tournament, something they had done just once during the regular season.

But that pitching staff is St. Thomas' rock. Led by right-hander Graham Laubscher (7-2, 1.81 ERA), Tommies pitchers have held opponents to a measly .187 batting average this season.

The Royals know they'll have to scratch across some runs and hope to hold down an old-school St. Thomas offense that is effective, but hardly one that finds its roots in modern metrics. The Tommies are slugging just .372 this season and have gone 20 games since hitting their last home run. In fact, nobody on the roster has more than eight doubles, two triples or three homers.

That said, they're averaging 5.7 runs per game, are proficient utilizing the sacrifice bunt (42 this season) and stolen base (77) and have won 25 of their last 29 games with that old-school approach.

Still, the undeterred, unfettered Royals have one goal this weekend, and it's not to simply enjoy the experience.

"Just move on," Kirsten smiled.

They're simple words, and all this team knows.

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