DASSEL – An item as simple as a Target bag set the tone for the Watertown-Mayer baseball team this season.
On the first day of practice, Royals head coach Ryan Trucke and his assistants showed up wanting an answer from their players. Expecting to hear that the ultimate goal for the season would be to make it to state, Trucke and his coaches were surprised by their answers. After each player made it clear the goal would be to win state this year, Trucke and his coaches took out a Target bag to symbolize where their final game of the season would be played – Target Field
The Royals moved one step close to that goal as they captured the Section 5AA title with an impressive 7-2 win over Glencoe-Silver Lake Thursday. The Panthers were the defending Class AA state champions.
“The very first day of practice I asked them what the goal was,” Trucke said. “ I was expecting them to say to go to state. The first guy and every guy I looked at said win state. It wasn’t just to get there. They had all thought about it independently and maybe talked about it, but they knew they had something special too.”
“Coming into the season, we knew we had something special,” Connor Donovan added. “ Last year we did pretty good but had a rough first round of the playoffs. This year we came in with a lot of confidence.”
The confidence for the Royals showed as they jumped out to an early lead over the Panthers in the Section 5AA title game. W-M came out ready to play as they held G-SL without a hit for the first four innings and held a 4-0 lead heading to the fifth.
“We didn’t even talk about it,” Trucke said about the possibility of playing two games. “We just talked about taking care of business and playing defense. Defense never slumps. It was all about one inning at a time. One pitch at a time. We don’t worry about anything beyond that.”
“We just came out to play,” Donovan added. “We knew we had to put on the pressure and make them less aggressive. When they’re down, they don’t bunt or steal as much so it was huge to get a lead early.”
Despite not having a hit through four innings and down four runs, G-SL didn’t go away quietly. After the first out of the inning was recorded, the Panthers strung together five-straight hits to cut W-M’s lead in half. With the bases loaded and still only one out, Trucke turned to Jaren Vogt on the mound and he needed just six pitches to get out of the jam as he started a double play on a comebacker to the mound.
The Royals would respond in a big way. Just eight pitches later, W-M already got one of those runs back as Vogt delivered with an RBI double. The Royals would add on two more in the inning to push their lead back to 7-2 and they never looked back as they showed what they’re made of like they have all season.
“That’s literally how we’ve been all year,” Trucke said. “When we played Rockford, they scored one and we came back with two. These guys are tough and they’re resilient. They don’t panic. That was the best thing about us today. They didn’t panic after they got five-straight hits. They got the outs and came in and took care of business. They did a really good job.”
That’s one thing we’ve talked about all tournament,” Donovan added. “We want to compete. If a team puts up some runs, we always want to respond.”
The season for the Royals has been an interesting one. After losing arguably their best player to injury, W-M hasn’t used that as an excuse for anything. They’ve continued to find ways to win as they’ve gotten contributions from all over the roster to secure their first state tournament appearance since 2013.
“We lost probably our best player (Wyatt McCabe) for the year earlier this season,” Trucke said. “We haven’t missed a beat. Nobody talked about it. Nobody felt sorry for themselves. We just played. Everybody one through nine had hit the ball and contributed in some form or another.”
“It feels amazing,” catcher Nick Anderstrom said. “It was a lot of fun. It’s a lot of fun playing with my team. The hard work has paid off. Now we just have to keep working.”
The Royals are a unique team as well. With no real star player on the roster, W-M relies on different players stepping up. A steady showcase of leadership from the seniors has helped them be successful as the entire team is all about one thing – winning.
“It starts with the seniors,” Trucke said. “They’re completely selfless. They always say whatever role you give me, I’m going to do the best I can and if you need more let me know. All the way through, some guys were playing out of position when Wyatt got hurt and nobody blinked an eye. If you want me to play there, I’ll play there. They’ve been awesome. To them, it’s just about winning. You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The Royals will wait to see what seed they are for the Class AA state tournament. Brackets will be released Saturday and W-M will open the tournament Tuesday, June 14 in St. Cloud at Dick Putz Field.
Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar-HJSports