Grand Forks Royals' powerful duo
Brock Reller has fond memories of the first time he cleared a fence for a home run. He was 10 years old, playing at Apollo Park.
"I still remember it,'' Reller said. "That first one, it's sort of a shock when you do it.''
Home runs have become more commonplace for Reller. And Rakeem Wright—who put a ball over a fence for a home run for the first time as an 11-year-old—has joined Reller as a long-ball threat this summer to give the Grand Forks Royals a potent power combination.
Reller has seven home runs to go with a .404 average and a team-high 36 RBI for the American Legion baseball team. He has 18 home runs in his three seasons with the Royals.
Wright hit one home run a year ago in his first season with the Royals. This season he's at five homers with a .328 average, 24 RBI and a team-high 10 steals.
Having two long-ball threats isn't the norm, Royals coach Nick Chine said. "Most years, we're lucky if we have one guy who can put the ball out of the park consistently, let alone two guys like this.''
Reller, the Royals' clean-up hitter, grew up hitting for power. "I've always been one of the bigger guys and I grew up watching guys like David Ortiz play,'' Reller said. "I modeled myself after guys like that. I always want to hit the ball hard. But I want to put it in play. I hate striking out.''
Wright, Grand Forks' leadoff hitter, developed power after spending more time in the weight room in the offseason and changing his style.
"I had a different approach (in the past),'' Wright said. "I'd just try to hit the ball on the ground and run. I had a lot of infield singles. This year I've tried to put the ball in the air more. I'm hitting for more power, but speed always has been an important part of my game. It's a good mix now.''
Grand Forks, which takes a 22-11 record and the No. 4 seed into Wednesday's opening round of the Class AA state tournament in Williston, isn't reliant on the home run. The only other player with a home run is Landon Kraft with one.
"Power is a luxury,'' Chine said. "Every team likes to have power, to be able to put runs on the board with one swing of the bat. Those two have the majority of (power) on our team. For a lot of the kids, their foot speed puts pressure on teams.''
That has been effective. Grand Forks averages 5.7 runs a game.
"We rely on some small ball,'' Reller said. "It's getting guys on base, a lot of singles and doubles, and getting clutch hits. We're a pretty speedy team.''
Chine said the Royals' pitching has been both good and consistent. "But you have to apply pressure on teams with your own hitting,'' Chine said. "Our offense has been a little erratic.''
Hitting—Brock Reller .404, 7 HR, 36 RBI; Coby Tweten .364; Zack Murphy .358; Ben Carolin .343, 23 RBI; Rakeem Wright .328, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 10 SB; Jackson Kriewald .313, 14 RBI.
Pitching—Reller 5-1, 1.07 ERA, 60K in 39.1 IP; Brenden Bethke 3-0, 2.01 ERA; Conner Richardson 4-2, 2.33 ERA, 3 saves; Zach Vodden 1-1, 2.56 ERA; Tweten 2-0, 4.15 ERA