WATERTOWN – Four years ago the Watertown Red Devils were a team that just struggled to get it done in the postseason. A year ago they were 90 feet away from winning a state title.
A lot can change in the span of four years and the Red Devils are proof of that. Watertown has gone from a perennial early exit in the region tournament to now being one of the favorites to win it all in the 2022 Class C state tournament.
Watertown has been on an impressive ride in the 2022 season coming off their runner-up finish in 2021. In the span of four years, they’ve gone from a team who can’t get it done to a team that could win it all and they’re doing it with the same guys.
“I think we haven’t changed and that’s important,” Watertown’s Pat Tschida said about the biggest key for his team on how they got to where they are. “Consistency is key. When you have consistent leadership or a group of leaders, success follows consistency. That has been a big contributor to it. I really do think it’s our maturity. The maturity aspect has been huge for us. We just created this culture where we all want to be together and it makes it fun. We have so many guys who just respect each other. I think with that respect comes the willingness to compete.”
Watertown’s run to the Class C title game a year ago might have come as a surprise to some. It wasn’t to them. The Red Devils are a team that has come together over the years on and off the field. With a ton of pitching and a group of guys who truly enjoy being around each other, success came naturally for the Red Devils at the state tournament last season.
“That’s the most important part of our team,” Red Devils manager Jared Duske said. “It’s not the pitching and it’s not the hitting. I think it’s the comradery. We like being around each other. Everyone is into the game from the first pitch on. Everyone is really supportive of each other. The comradery on this team is special. That’s where I think our team differs from other teams.”
After coming up short in the state title game last season, many expected the Red Devils to come out a bit sluggish to start the 2022 season. That wasn’t the case at all as they hit the ground running from the opening day as they had one of the best regular seasons in the Crow River Valley League and won their first region title since 2008 in the process.
“Our guys have done really well with showing up each game,” Duske said. “A big word this year for us has been compete. We don’t want to show up and just go through the motions. League games or non-league games, we want to go out there and play good baseball. We scheduled a lot of games this year and played top competition. All of that was to prepare us for where we are now.”
After last year’s run in the state tournament, the Red Devils have gone from a team that a few people know to one of the favorites to win it all this year. While the perception of Watertown has changed around the state, they’re still the same group of guys who love the game and want to finish something they started last season.
“We know that we have a little bit of a target on our back,” Duske said. “It’s a little different than last year. In the state tournament, anything can happen. You need a little luck on your side and you need to play good baseball. We know people know who we are now and that’s OK. It’s kind of nice to be a team that people know now. We went from not making state ever to being one of the favorites. I think as a team, it’s about unfinished business. We also know we have to take one game at a time. We know what to expect going in now with the big lights on. I’ll say that we got something to accomplish with this group. The guys want to do it. We were 90 feet away from it last year. The guys want it.”
As bad as Watertown wants to repeat their run from last season, they know how crucial it is to take things one game at a time. That’s where a leader comes in.
“It’s definitely one game at a time,” Tschida said. “If we have a span where we’re looking four games ahead and all of a sudden we’re done 4-0, that changes everything. It’s single elimination. I think it has to be one game at a time. I enjoy thinking about last year. It’s one of those things where we had an opportunity. It was a cool experience. It only helps us to grow. It’s definitely unfinished business, but we have to take it one game at a time. We can’t look ahead. We have the talent to do it. We have the fire and desire to do it, but in this tournament, anything can happen so we just have to stay focused on what’s right ahead of us.”
The first team that stands in the way of Watertown is the Cold Spring Rockies. They are coming off a convincing 20-4 win over New York Mills in the opening round of the state tournament last weekend.
Watertown has been off for two weeks since winning the Region 7C title game. Although they took in some games over the weekend, the Red Devils are eagerly awaiting their chance to take the field and begin what they hope is another long postseason run.
“I’m kind of bummed that we haven’t gotten to play yet,” Tschida said. “I’m just waiting to be able to play and compete. I’m excited. I was able to sit in the stands in Dundas last weekend and watch the games and see the level of competitiveness. Being back at that state tournament atmosphere was fun. I’m just itching to get out there.”
Pitching is what many people will bring up when talking about the Red Devils as a team. In last year’s state tournament run, their offense, particularly in clutch situations from players in the bottom of the order, was a big reason for the run they made and something they know they need to have again this year.
“It’s truly what separates the good teams from the bad,” Tschida said. “Once you get through your first four or five hitters and you don’t have anyone behind that who can deliver competitive at-bats, it’s really hard. If you have a bottom of the order like we have, those guys are incredible and change games. Hopefully, those guys can be big for us again because we’re going to need it.”
The road to the title game wasn’t an easy one for Watertown last year. In their first game of the Labor Day weekend against Eagle Lake, the Red Devils found themselves in a hole early on only to rally late and keep the season alive with an impressive comeback win. That win gave the team a big boost of confidence they still ride today knowing that they are capable of coming back and winning games even if they get down early or late.
“We’re always preaching that we’re never out of a ballgame,” Duske said. “Eagle Lake last year was a great example. We had a couple of things that didn’t go our way and we never worried. We’re never out of the ballgame with the guys we have. The guys are seeing that and believing that. We don’t care if we’re down three in the ninth with two outs. We’re going to compete. Each guy has matured into that role and mindset. That’s been a huge part of our success.”
Watertown gets their state tournament going Sunday, Aug. 28 when they take on Cold Spring at 4:30 p.m. in Faribault. As they take the field for the first time, they’ll do so with a smile on their faces knowing they have a chance to do something special again with their teammates.
“The guys are ready,” Duske said. “We’ve kept busy at the park. Guys are out there almost every day. They’re excited. We have a great group of guys that want to be around each other. There are no bad apples. If there’s even just one bad apple it can spoil things. We really haven’t had that since we have such a good group of guys. We’re more mature and we’re older and we’ve figured out the game a little bit which is cool to see. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”
“I just want to enjoy the hell out of it,” Tschida added. “Going to the park is fun. It’s supposed to be fun. It makes you feel like you’re playing something that’s bigger than it is. I enjoy it all. Hopefully, we can take care of business and have another run at things.