WATERTOWN – It’s been a long time in the making for the Watertown Red Devils. This weekend, Watertown will be taking part in the Class C State Tournament for the first time since 2008.
While it’s been 12 years since the Red Devils have competed in a state tournament, there’s just one player left on the roster who was their the last time the Red Devils reached state. It’s manager Jared Duske.
“This tourney is not easy to get to, especially out of this region,” Duske said. “Me being the last player from that 2008 roster, I want my guys to know that we cannot take this for granted and to leave everything out on the field, because you really don’t know when you will be back.”
Watertown comes into the state tournament as the No. 2 seed from Region 7C. After collecting wins over the Green Isle Irish and Young America Cardinals, the Red Devils fell to the Cardinals in the Region 7C title game last Sunday.
Duske and the Red Devils don’t have a ton of state tournament experience on the roster with their long absence, so he knows how important it is for the guys to just enjoy the moment.
“I want the guys to stay loose and have fun,” Duske said. “(Just) play the game we have been playing all year. If we are down in a game, do not panic. If we are up, do not let up. Play the full game and see where you are at the end of it.”
While the Red Devils don’t come in with a ton of state tournament experience as a team, there is one player who does. Ace pitcher and leadoff hitter Pat Tschida has several years of state tournament experience under his belt. Tschida has been the big prize for teams who’ve won the Region 7C title previously as the no-brainer No. 1 draft pick. This year, Tschida will be relied on for more than his arm and bat. He’ll be asked to lead the younger guys who are experiencing this for the first time.
“I cannot express enough how much Pat means to this team,” Duske said. “Not only on the diamond, where everyone is aware of the damage he can do, but off the field. Pat is there for every person in that dugout. The team knows we are a Red Devil family, and Pat preaches that. We are all there for each other. Winning is very important to Pat, but doing it with guys that you call family is even more important to him.”
Tschida has played a huge role on teams who’ve made deep runs in the state tournament from the Crow River Valley League before. This year, he’ll be looking to do the same thing once again, but with his own team.
“Pat is our spark plug,” Duske said. “He brings energy everywhere. The young guys feed off his energy and are attentive when he is speaking. We do not have much state experience, but we do have some. (Zach) Iten was in the final weekend last year with Cologne, (Jonah) Lewis was with Carver last year, and I have had a go in 2008 and a few different years with a few different teams.”
While the state tournament experience is minimal for Watertown, Duske believes the drive his team has right now makes up for the experience that some other teams might have.
“Having said that, I believe that experience is very good to have going into the tourney, but the drive to get back is the most important,” Duske said. “The taste of the state tourney never leaves you. Once you have been there, you do whatever you can to get back. Pat having won a state title with Plato, I believe drives him to get his team to the tourney and win some games, so they can experience the feelings he has felt there.”
The Red Devils are a team that has fed on momentum all season long. After a 10-3 regular-season record, Watertown earned the No. 3 seed heading into the Region 7C Tournament. Although they ended the region tournament with a loss, the way they battled back late was big.
Watertown trailed 7-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning against Young America in the Region 7C title game. After scoring five runs, the Red Devils found themselves with a chance to tie it, or even take the lead after trailing big. The fight Watertown showed late gave Duske a reason to be excited heading into the state tournament, even after a loss.
“It was huge,” Duske said about fighting back late. “The guys kept after it. They never gave up, even when it looked like the game was going sideways. That game may be a blessing in disguise, in all honesty. I think it reiterated that we are never out of a game. The whole year, we preached just keep playing the game, keep attacking at the plate, and have an approach. No matter if we are down six or up six, do not let the score dictate how you play the game. They hung on at the end, but that game told us that we can play with anyone. Young America is a very deep and talented team that is looking to make a deep run in the state tournament. We hope we can do the same.”
The Red Devils will take on the Red Wing Aces in the first round of the Class C State Tournament. The Aces are the No. 3 seed from Region 5. First pitch is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 22 at 8 p.m. in Milroy.
“We just have to play loose, and know that we are a good team,” Duske said. “Guys need to enjoy the tourney and take it all in. Get that taste that I was talking about. We have to show up ready to get after it right away and stay after it. Heading into the last game of the tourney, I believe we were on a nine or 10-game winning streak in a very tough league schedule and even a tougher region. We hope to carry that momentum into Milroy on Saturday night.”