When the Royals finished the regular season with a 9-7 record overall and an 8-6 mark in the Minnesota River Conference — good for a third-place tie – the Royals were already enjoying their finest season since the team went 13-9 in 1996.
Few people realized at that time, though, that the ride was really just getting started.
An already successful season turned into one for the ages when the Royals, seeded fifth in their subsection, defied all odds by rattling off six consecutive elimination-game wins to advance to their first ever state tournament. At state, the Royals even upset third-seeded Minnehaha Academy and one of the state’s top pitchers to move to the semifinals before eventually finishing fourth.
“It was a magical season,” Watertown-Mayer baseball coach Justin Stohs said. “As the season progressed, the players developed, and they grew as a team. They believed they could play with anyone in the state, and they did just that, beating three of the top 6 teams in the state (Holy Family, Glencoe-Silver Lake, Minnehaha Academy).”
For their impressive work this season, the Royals were rewarded with four players on the all-conference first team — including conference co-player of the year Matt Elsenpeter.
Elsenpeter was named the co-player of the year along with Isaac Hormann of Norwood Young America. Elsenpeter hit .435 in league play with seven doubles, a triple, 12 runs scored and eight runs driven in to earn first-team honors for the second time. Overall, the North Dakota State recruit hit .420 with 24 runs, 15 RBIs and a school record 37 hits. He also posted a 1.50 ERA in 15 innings on the mound.
Also named to the first-team for the Royals were first-baseman Joe Reinert, third baseman Brendan Weege and pitcher Andrew Nichols. Nick Tschida was an honorable-mention selection.
Weege hit .425 in conference games and led the team with 11 RBIs in MRC action. He also led the team in innings pitched. Overall, he hit .369 with 23 RBIs, 12 runs and 10 doubles.
Reinert hit .467 in league action, including a .650 on-base percentage. Overall, he hit .347 with 15 RBIs and 14 runs and played a solid first base.
In his first varsity season, Nichols became a key pitcher for the Royals. In 20 innings pitched in MRC games, he posted a 0.70 ERA with 21 strikeouts. He also hit .424 with nine RBIs in conference games. Overall, he .367 batting average with 16 RBIs and 13 runs, and went 5-2 on the mound with a 1.67 ERA in 42 innings.
Tschida hit .253 for the Royals this year, scoring 16 runs. He also played stellar defense in center field all season long.
Michael Herd did not earn any MRC honors despite finishing the year with the team’s best overall ERA and being named the team’s Most Valuable Player. In a team-high 49.2 innings, he compiled an 8-1 record and a 0.423 ERA. Much of that was the result of throwing 29.2 scoreless innings in the playoffs, which helps explain why didn’t earn all-conference honors.
Catcher Brett Johnson was named the team’s Most Improved player, and Elsenpeter and Mark Sandquist won the team’s Mike Dressen Sportsmanship Awards.
Overall this year, the Royals hit .253 as a team and outscored their opponents, 136 to 85. The Royals also posted a 2.27 ERA.
The Royals will be hard-hit by graduation as they lose seven senior starters, including Elsenpeter, Weege, Tschida, Reinert, Mark Sandquist, David Gallus, and P.J. Hangartner. The Royals do, however, return their top two pitchers in Nichols and Herd.
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]