Less than three weeks after making his first varsity pitching appearance, Mason Kramer found himself on the mound for two innings of the Region 6 championship.
But with the game still in the balance in the sixth inning, Kramer all but clinched the Lions' title in a more familiar place - the batter's box.
The junior cleanup roped a hanging curveball over the left-field fence for a three-run home run, helping the Lions to a 9-3 victory over Velva-Drake-Anamoose on Friday at Jack Hoeven Park. Ryan plays Region 4 champion Grafton in the first round of the Class B state tournament Thursday in Mandan - the Lions' first state appearance since a four-year run from 2007-2010, including championships in '07, '08 and '09.
Bishop Ryan junior Mason Kramer takes a cut during the Lions’ Region 6 championship win over Velva-Drake-Anamoose on Friday at Jack Hoeven Park.
"I feel like we're back to where we should be," Kramer said. "Hopefully we can take home the state title."
Ryan led 5-3 before Kramer's blast, but the lined shot put the game out of reach.
"That was a huge momentum-booster," Ryan junior Austin Eggl said. "We were kind of struggling along a little bit, not really able to string things together. It kind of just pushed us over the edge and got us rolling."
Kramer pitched wildly in two-plus innings, but he got out of trouble when he needed to. The hard-throwing righty walked five batters and plunked two, but struck out three to get out of crucial jams. The Aggies stranded 12 runners in the game, including 10 in the first four innings.
The Lions, meanwhile, cashed in on more of their opportunities. Seven different Lions recorded a hit, led by senior Josh Schell (3-for-5) and junior Tyler Allers (3-for-3). Kramer, who also hit a double and a sacrifice fly, finished with four RBIs.
"They whacked the ball," V-D-A coach Gene Buen said. "Kramer comes up and hits that three-run homer and that kind of broke it open a little bit. You've gotta give them credit for hitting the baseball. We made just enough mistakes defensively to get ourselves in a hole and good teams take advantage of things like that."
Kramer's sac fly in the first gave Ryan an early lead but the Aggies pushed two across in the second.
V-D-A leadoff Brad Dean hit an RBI single up the middle to score the first run and junior Alex Erickson scored on a Ryan error. The Aggies could have had an even bigger inning if not for a flukish fielder's choice.
V-D-A's Derek Fahy hit a sinking liner that landed in front of Lions center fielder Nick Berentson, but Buen appeared to hold up Dean as he headed to third. As Dean headed back toward second, the Lions recorded the force out at third - giving the Aggies two outs and two runners on rather than the bases loaded and one out.
After another Ryan error, Kramer struck out Ryan Bowman to end the threat.
Eggl, Allers and Jake Magnuson had singles in the fourth as the Lions scored three runs with the aid of two V-D-A errors.
In the bottom of the inning, Eggl relieved Kramer with no outs and the bases loaded but allowed only one run. The Aggies managed just two hits in the final four innings off Eggl, who brought stability to the Lions by working quickly and throwing strikes.
"I wanted to get Austin in there," said Ryan coach Brent Nelson, who was named the region coach of the year in a postgame ceremony. "He's been our gamer."
The Lions scored 24 runs in three games during the region tournament and hope to continue that offense in Mandan.
"We just gotta keep hitting," Kramer said. "That's huge for us. You don't lose games when you put up a lot of runs."
Dixon Bauer suffered the loss for the Aggies, who received a 2-for-2 performance at the plate from junior Drew Effertz. Fahy was named the region player of the year.