NECEDAH — For a second straight year, the Royall Panthers are Scenic Bluffs Conference champions. And this time, they won’t have to share the conference title with anyone else.
Royall (12-2 overall, 11-1 Scenic Bluffs) eked out a pair of one-run wins to earn a doubleheader sweep over Necedah (7-6, 7-6) Tuesday, May 15 in Necedah. The Panthers defeated the Cardinals 3-2 in the first game and notched a 2-1 win in walk-off fashion in the second game.
The two wins improved Royall’s conference record to 11-1 on the season, ensuring it the outright Scenic Bluffs championship. Last season, the Panthers shared the conference crown with Cashton. This year’s conference title is the 20th in program history and 18th under head coach Joe Vitcenda, who is in his 50th season at the helm.
“Pretty impressive. I’m pretty excited for them (the players),” Vitcenda said. “They’re as good as I thought they would be.”
In the first game of the evening, Royall drew first blood in the top of the first inning. The Panthers used a pair of singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs, and junior right fielder Logan Rego scored on an error. However, Necedah junior starting pitcher Ryan Nixon fanned the next three batters to escape without any further damage.
In the bottom of the first, Nixon picked up a leadoff single and was later driven home on an RBI double by sophomore shortstop Jaron Murphy to tie the score at 1-1. The Panthers retook the lead in the top of the third thanks to some two-out production. With the bases loaded, sophomore shortstop Keith Schnurr singled and sophomore third baseman Ty Dragon was hit by a pitch to put Royall ahead 3-1.
Nixon scored again in the bottom of the third thanks to a sacrifice fly from Murphy to cut the Necedah deficit in half, but the Cardinals failed to get a runner in scoring position over the final two innings as Royall held on for the 3-2 victory.
Rego, Schnurr, senior first baseman Seth Brown and senior catcher Noah Friedl each recorded a hit for the Panthers, while Nixon went 2 for 3 with two runs scored and Murphy was 1 for 1 with a pair of RBIs for Necedah.
On the mound, Royall senior Jaydyn Enzenbacher picked up the win after giving up two runs, five hits and a walk while striking out six in five innings of work. Nixon took the loss following an outing which saw him surrender three runs (two earned), four walks and three hits to go along with six strikeouts in three innings of work. Senior Trenton Whipple came on in relief for the Cardinals, hurling two scoreless innings while giving up just one hit and punching out two.
The Panthers again took a 1-0 lead in the second game when Rego singled home Schnurr in the bottom of the third. In the top of the fourth, Necedah tied it at 1-1 after junior second baseman Logan Williams drove home junior third baseman Aric Ristick with a single.
In the bottom of the fifth, Royall came up to bat with a chance to win it. Schnurr led off the inning by striking out, but reached base thanks to a dropped third strike and an errant throw to first by Nixon in an attempt to secure the out.
Dragon followed by striking out as well, but the ball squirted away from Nixon and allowed Schnurr to advance to second. Junior designated hitter Arien Nordstrom grounded out to second, allowing Schnurr to move up to third base.
With the winning run 90 feet away, Rego hit what looked like it’d be an inning-ending popup barely in front of home plate. But miscommunication between Necedah pitcher Miles Saylor and catcher Ryan Nixon allowed the ball to fall fair and Schnurr to score.
As the Panthers celebrated what appeared to be a walk-off win, the umpires gathered and determined the ball had hit Rego in foul territory and then ended up in fair territory, resulting in a foul ball.
However, Necedah head coach Kris Saylor argued that if the ball made contact with the batter outside the batter’s box in foul territory, then Rego should be called out and the inning over. For his part, Rego disputed that the ball ever touched him before it was fielded in fair territory, so the run should count and the game ended.
Ultimately, the umpires stuck with their call of foul and Rego stepped back in the box still looking to collect a two-out RBI. On the very next pitch, he delivered, roping a line-drive single into left to score Schnurr for a walk-off win.
For Royall, Rego went 2 for 3 at the plate and Brown was the winning pitcher after giving up one unearned run, two hits and two walks while striking out 10 in five innings pitched. Saylor took the loss after allowing two unearned runs, three hits and a walk while punching out eight in 4 2/3 innings pitched.
Speaking after the game about the controversy on Rego’s popup, Kris Saylor actually agreed with Rego that he never saw the ball hit him before being fielded in fair territory. Saylor’s argument was simply that if the umpires were going to rule that it hit Rego in foul territory, then he believed it should be ruled an out and not a foul ball.
In any event, Saylor chalked up the loss not to the controversial call, but instead the miscues committed by Necedah at inopportune times.
“We should’ve caught (Rego’s popup). They shouldn’t have been on first, but our catcher dropped a third strike and threw it wild,” Saylor said. “In both games, we just made a couple key mistakes. We were right in it.”
As for the Panthers — ranked No. 5 among Division 4 teams in the state in the latest Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association poll — they continue to roll along as the playoffs quickly approach. Vitcenda believes Royall has the pieces necessary to make a deep postseason run, but also knows how easily an upset can derail a season come playoff time.
“We have a good shot at going to sectionals,” Vitcenda said. “But I’ve been around long enough to know a team that’s 0-10 can beat a team that’s 10-0 on any given day.”