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Revamped Royal Knights looking like veteran squad

Madison Morris is part of a River Ridge squad off to a surprising start. In all, the Knights lost seven players from last year.

Times (2008)

Madison Morris is part of a River Ridge squad off to a surprising start. In all, the Knights lost seven players from last year.

In hindsight, Ernie Beck being skeptical seems laughable.

His River Ridge softball team is 10-1, tops among North Suncoast softball teams.

The Royal Knights have done it with the brutal efficiency of a veteran club.

That's the irony.

Beck had to replace seven players from last year's club, including three of four infielders and his catcher.

"The reason I was skeptical is because I lost seven players," Beck said. "Four graduated and three decided not to come back this year."

The three players who opted not to return left for various reasons: one moved, one chose to focus on another sport, one chose to focus on academics.

Beck said there were no hard feelings, but he had to move quickly to find viable replacements.

Two players who have stood out early this season are Amber Jones and Nicole Bylski.

Bylski is batting .389 with three doubles and 13 RBIs; Jones is batting .405 with four doubles and 13 RBIs.

"I was really worried because we lost four solid seniors," junior pitcher Lakyn Shull said. "They were a huge part of the team. We have some really good replacements helping to make up for their loss."

A big key has been the pitching tandem of Shull and Ana Alberti.

Shull is 8-0 with 84 strikeouts and a 0.35 ERA. Alberti is 2-1 with 14 strikeouts in 122/3 innings. Their ability to limit hitters has been a big part of the good start.

"She really is a complete player, a leader," Beck said. "She's really stepping up. She hates losing, you can see it on her face. But not upset to the point it bothers her, but to the point when she hunkers down."

There's little talk of what the postseason might hold simply because Beck insists on focusing only on the next game. And River Ridge understands the realities of the district tournament and how one loss there can end a season.

But for now, the Royal Knights will sit back and enjoy a little of the limelight, even in the rain.

"It's going to be a long season," Shull said. "We try to keep everyone focused and everything will just work itself out."

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or (813) 421-3886.

Revamped Royal Knights looking like veteran squad 03/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, March 11, 2010 9:19pm]

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