With an extra long winter making it almost impossible for the Watertown-Mayer boys’ baseball team to get outside for practice, and forcing the cancellation of both of the Royals’ first two games this week, Watertown-Mayer did the next best thing.
It found a way to play inside.
The Watertown-Mayer team got the unique opportunity to scrimmage Maple Grove at the Metrodome late Tuesday night, with a 10 p.m. start time. For the Royals, it will be one of the few full-speed tuneups before the revised schedule is slated to open, weather permitting, on Monday, April 8, at Sibley East.
For the Royals, which finished 7-11 overall last year and 6-8 in the Minnesota River Conference, expectations will be high this year.
“We were one to two plays or hits away from winning quite a few more games last year,” said Watertown-Mayer coach Justin Stohs, who is entering his seventh season this year. “Our expectations are high. I believe we have a chance to compete for the conference and our section.”
For the Royals, success will likely come down to whether the offense can produce more runs this year. Pitching and defense were solid last year, but the team scored only 38 runs in 18 games.
“We need to find ways to score more runs,” Stohs said. “Our pitching and defense will keep us in the games.”
Although the Royals lost one of their best pitchers, Matt Schreder, to graduation, they return two of their top three in Max Zitzloff and Brandon Weege. Zitzloff worked 39 innings last year and struck out 48 while posting a 2.15 ERA. Weege posted a 1.55 ERA in much more limited action on the mound.
“In addition to our two returning pitchers, we have quite a few juniors and sophomores ready to get on the mound and compete,” Stohs said. “We’re excited for the opportunities we have this year.”
The royals committed only 23 errors last year behind their quality pitching staff, and Stohs said the expectation is that the team will be just as strong defensively once again. That leaves offense as the biggest question, especially as a team that hit just .228 last year lost several regular starters to graduation, including Alex Bakke, Alex Runck, Adam Parker and Schreder.
However, the Royals do return their leading hitter from last year in shortstop Matt Elsenpeter, who hit .352 in 63 at bats. Other key returnees include catcher Nick Tschida and infielder Weege, who led the team in RBIs. Reinert and P.J. Hangartner also return to the starting lineup, and Tschida and Elsenpeter will serve as the team’s captains this year.
The team has nine returning letter winners overall, and that experience will be vital during what Stohs considers a very tough conference.
“We have to be playing one of the toughest schedules in Class AA,” he said. “Not only is the MRC a tough conference, but we added Glencoe-Silver Lake, St. Peter, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Maple Lake to the schedule, which are all good teams. It will be an exciting year of god baseball and the guys are ready to begin the season.”
After their scheduled opener at Sibley East on Monday, April 8, the Royals are scheduled to return to action Thursday, April 11, when they host LeSueur-Henderson in their home opener at 5 p.m. The Royals are also scheduled to play Friday, April 12, at 5 p.m. at Norwood Young America, Monday, April 15, at 5 p.m. at home against Mayer Lutheran, and Tuesday, April 16, at 5 p.m. at Howard Lake-Waverly-winsted.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]