TYLER - Sometimes the turning point in a game can be subtle. A play within a play that is hardly remembered and never winds up in the score book, but before long the tone of the game has entirely changed.
For the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton baseball team on Friday, their turning point was not subtle, but rather a boisterous inning-ending double play which completely altered the course of their Camden Conference game against Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg.
Before the 6-4-3 double play to end the top of the third inning, the Knights trailed 4-2. After the double play, the Knights put up 17 runs to top the Fighting Saints 19-5.
RTR had just one hit in the opening two innings, a flare over first base, but had used five walks and an error to put its first two runs on the board.
KMS, however, had slapped seven hits together to score its runs, including an RBI double by pitcher Kyle Baker in the second inning. Baker was cruising on the hill and the Fighting Saints were finding holes all over the field. Then the third inning happened.
RTR starter Brandon Verly got Jacob Zvorak to ground out hard to short, before walking No. 7 batter Rylan Hattlestad. A single by Fred Mansfield had runners at first and third with one out and KMS threatening to blow the game wide open.
KMS 220 10-5 10 2
RTR 20(10) 7X-17 8 1
KMS-Kyle Baker, Fred Mansfield (3), Mitch Tollefson (4), Nathan Torkelson (4); RTR-Brandon Verly. WP-Verly. LP-Baker. 2B: KMS-Baker; RTR-Mason LaRock, Abel Romandia.
Instead, Verly spun a curveball low and inside to No. 9 batter Travis Lamecker, who hit a roller to RTR shortstop Shay Wabeke. Wabeke flipped the ball to Dain LaRock who fired the ball across his body to Nick Moberg at first base, just beating Lamecker.
"It was pretty big," Verly said of the double play. "It got us out of the inning and helped us a lot."
RTR head coach Cody Curry was slightly more complimentary of the double play.
"That's huge, it was a rally killer," he said. "It's always nice to get a double play and then coming back the next half inning and scoring all of those runs was awesome to see."
The Knights scored 10 runs in the bottom of the third. Mason LaRock started the rout with a one-out double. Four hits, four walks and three hit batters later and the Knights held a 12-4 lead.
LaRock was the designated hitter for Verly, who allowed one run in the fourth and just four base runners over the final two innings.
"I was a little nervous at the beginning when they were hitting the ball all over, but (Verly) stepped up and threw strikes," Curry said. "He let them hit it and used the defense behind him to prove that he is a good pitcher."
RTR added seven more runs in the bottom of the fourth, as KMS relief pitchers struggled with control. Fred Mansfield, Mitch Tollefson and Nathan Torkelson combined to allow 10 runs on three hits with eight walks and three hit batters.
When the Fighting Saints threw strikes, the Knights were ready. Though they only had eight hits in the game, nearly all of them were hard hit, as were most of the outs. The Knights had just two strikeouts as a team and hit three ground ball outs.
"It's always good to see from a coach's perspective, to see your guys hitting the ball like that," Curry said. "To have good pitching and good hitting, too, that makes a great ball team."
Verly retook the mound in the fifth after another lengthy delay. After allowing back-to-back singles to start the inning, he struck out Mansfield and Lamecker before turning a soft grounder into the game's final out.
"I was just jogging around to try to keep warm and stay loose," Verly said of his routine during the extended bottom-half innings for the Knights. "I was trying to keep focused on who was batting next and what to pitch and what to throw."
His steady mix of curveballs and fastballs helped him pick up the win behind four strikeouts and three walks over five innings.
Offensively the Knights were led by Abel Romandia's 2-for-3 performance with a double and three RBIs. Dain LaRock was 0-for-2, but scored three times and had two RBIs, while Luke Wiering was 2-for-2 with three RBIs and a stolen base.
RTR improved to 4-0 with the win and will look to remain unbeaten in its next contest, as the Knights travel to Tracy on Monday for a conference game against Tracy-Milroy-Balaton.