On a spectacular night for softball, the Elks pulled off an epic comeback to win the 2021 edition of the River Battle.
No. 3 Elk River (15-1, 12-0) defeated No. 7 Rogers (17-2, 10-2) 6-5 in 10 innings on Saturday, May 15, at Lions Park in Elk River. It was the longest game of 2021 for each team. Elk River sophomore first baseman Kaylyn Breyen ended the marathon game when she smacked an RBI double to left field off of Royals pitcher Grace Mammen for her ninth RBI of the season as Elks senior pitcher Annie Volkers scored to send Elk River fans home happy.
Royals head coach Jerry Bruns said that it showed that Rogers had played a doubleheader the night before as the game went on. The Royals swept Moorhead in a doubleheader on Friday, May 14, at Rogers High School, winning game one 4-0 and game two 8-0.
“We played 10 innings on Friday night and turned around in 24 hours and played another 10 innings,” Bruns said. “That was [one] of the factors and the game see-sawed back and forth in momentum. At times, we had all the momentum going for us, and then it seemed they get it rolling their way and we take the lead again. It was a tough fought battle. Somebody was going to [lose].
“We were one out away in the seventh from that game being over. We had a one-run lead with a runner on second and two outs in the seventh. If she [Elks sophomore second baseman Nora Zak] doesn’t hit a line drive and hits it up in the air further, the ball’s caught, we’re happy and they're not.”
Elks head coach Danielle Bloom said the Elks found a way to win even though they didn’t play their best game.
“Rogers is a great team and I’ll give them all the credit,” Bloom said. “Not taking anything away from them, but we weren’t ourselves. We came out pretty flat. It’s one of those things where you go against the crosstown rival. You want to play well and you want to win. We put a little too much into who we were playing versus how we play and how we play our game, but I was proud of our team. We had good at-bats that kept us in the game and kept getting us back in.”
Rogers took the lead in the third inning when senior first baseman Emma Rooks smashed the ball to Elks sophomore shortstop Emma Loretz. Loretz couldn’t handle the ball, receiving an error which allowed Royals center fielder Kenzie Jones to score from second base. It was Rooks’ 11th RBI of the season.
The Royals scored three more runs in the fourth inning to take a 4-1 lead into the fourth inning. The Elks cut the lead to 4-3 in the fifth inning. Senior catcher Avery Hills drove in sophomore designated hitter Raegan Zak to make it 4-2. It was Hills’ 19th RBI of the season. Breyen flew out to Jones for an RBI sacrifice fly to make it 4-3. It was her eighth RBI of the season.
Neither team could score in the sixth inning. Down 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh and down to its final out, Elk River rallied to tie the game. Breyen hit a single to right-center field. Down to the Elks’ last strike on a 2-2 count, Nora Zak tied the game with an RBI single to center field. It was her first RBI of the season. With a chance to win the game with an extra-base hit in the gap in the outfield, Elk River junior right fielder April Volkers flew out to Jones to end the seventh and force extra innings.
Rogers regained the lead when Jones bunted home left fielder Emma Kemmetmueller to make it 5-4 Royals. It was Jones’ 11th RBI of the season. However, Rogers rallied again in the eighth to tie the game. Hills hit an RBI single to center field, allowing Raegan Zak to score. It was Hills’ second RBI of the game and 20th of the season. The Royals survived the eighth inning and got the third out, forcing a ninth inning. Neither team could score in the ninth, forcing a 10th inning.
With no outs in the top of the 10th, the unthinkable happened. At approximately 10 p.m., the field lights shut off inexplicably while Annie Volkers pitched to right fielder Kalista Kragt, haulting the game and forcing both teams to wait. After a moderate delay, the lights came on again and play resumed. Rogers couldn’t find a way to score in the top half of the 10th.
Bloom said one can’t make up the unique nature of the delay.
“It was crazy and completely unexpected,” she said. “We were told by a lighting company that they wouldn’t automatically shut off, ever. We maybe want to look into this. I think the city [may] has a 10 o’clock [light] shutoff for safety reasons and to make sure that lights don’t get left on. I was not aware of that.
“When they shut off, it was a little scary. The whole place went dark. Fans immediately turned on their lights on their phones. It was like you were at a concert. Our announcer told everyone to stay put. Then, the madness started and running around trying to find a phone and get our lights back on. Our athletic director [Mike Cunningham] was on one end and the mayor [Mayor John Dietz] was on the other end. It’s one of those wild things. It affects the momentum of the game, but at the same time, they weren’t off that long. Each team composed themselves and we started again. It adds to the story of the night. [A] 10-inning game, the lights shut off. It’s a close ball game. It’s back-and-forth. It makes for fun memories down the road.
Bruns said the delay was no big deal even though the Royals had never been through something like that before.
“I don’t think it was an advantage to Elk River or a disadvantage to us,” Bruns said. “It happened. That’s all.”
Elk River had an opportunity to win the game in the bottom half of the inning. After Annie Volkers and Hills both reached base with singles, Breyen came up to bat with two outs with the chance to be a hero. With a 3-2 count, she belted the ball to left field as Volkers rounded the bases to score as the Elks completed their comeback to win 6-5 and remain undefeated at home. After the Elks mobbed Breyen, the two teams congratulated each other by waiving to each other.
Elk River is 10-0 at home this season and hasn’t lost a game at Lions Park, which opened this spring. Elk River’s last home loss came against Buffalo on Thursday, May 23, 2019, when the Elks lost 4-1 to the Bison in the first game of the Section 8-4A tournament.
The Elks have a record of 4-2 against the Royals since 2016.
Offensive Player of the Game
Breyen’s game-winning, RBI double was her was her first career walk-off hit.
Bloom said Breyen came up big when it mattered the most.
“She struggled a little bit earlier on in the game, struck out looking at one time with runners in scoring position. It was awesome to see her mentality change and for her to be aggressive. The game’s on the line and you’re up to bat with two outs and a full count and she crushes one to left field. It shows maturity in her at bats throughout the game.”
Defensive Player of the Game
Annie Volkers threw her fifth complete game of the season. She threw all 10 innings, allowing five runs, one earned runs, six hits and eight walks while striking out 13 Rogers batters.
Bloom said it wasn’t Volkers’ best start to the game, but she found a way to win.
“You’re not always going to get the calls behind the plate,” Bloom said. “Not making excuses, but the [home-plate] umpire was squeezing her zone quite a bit. It’s frustrating. She changed her composure and her presence on the mound and the whole team feeds off that. She changed her presence and she’s the toughest one. She has to be. She has to be the toughest one on the field. We had a couple [bad] innings, but she kept fighting. I was proud of her for that. That’s a long game against kids you’ve grown up playing with and there’s always that [desire] to beat Rogers. It’s a good, healthy battle between the two teams. She got it done.”
Elk River will face No. 2 Centennial (14-1, 11-0) on Tuesday, May 25, at Centennial High School. The Cougars defeated the Elks 13-1 in their most-recent game on Monday, May 13, 2019, at Elk River High School.
Rogers will face Maple Grove on Tuesday, May 25, at 4:30 p.m. at Maple Grove Senior High School. The Royals defeated the Crimson 7-6 in nine innings in the most-recent game between the two teams on Wednesday, May 1, 2019, at Rogers High School.
Bloom said Saturday’s game won’t be the last time that Elk River will face Rogers in 2021.
“We’re going to work hard in the [batting] cages,” she said. “Grace [Mammen] is a great pitcher, so we’re going to work a lot on hitting and every aspect of our game. You can never think that you’ve mastered it all. By no means are we perfect. We’ll work on our bunt coverage because they squeezed us two outs and were definitely caught on our heels. Hopefully, that won’t happen again. We’ve learned from that one. We’ll continue to work. We’ll continue to attack with a good practice plan, help the kids execute and go from there. They’re a tough squad. We’ve got to face them again, for sure, once, if not twice.”
Bruns said he agrees with Bloom that the Elks and Royals will face each other in the Section 8-4A postseason with a chance to advance to the state tournament. The Royals haven’t advanced to the state tournament in the past nine seasons, while the Elks haven’t advanced to the state tournament since winning the program’s second state championship in 2013.
“This [isn’t] the last time that we’re going to meet,” he said. “If you won, be happy that you won, but know that the next time it comes around, it’s going to be the same type of game. It’s the same way for the losing team. It didn’t go you way, but this ain’t the last time that you’re going to face them. I would expect us to be both battling for the chance to go to state. Everybody would like to go undefeated on the year, but it [doesn’t] always work out that way. I always tell my kids, ‘In softball, in 4-A, 63 teams in the state are unhappy at the end of the year with their results, but only one is happy at the end of the year.”