Watkins Mud Hens retool, repeat as IABA champs

Amateur baseball team wins fifth straight state title

April 1, 2014 | 12:01 am

The hardest thing in any sport is winning a championship.

Setting the goal, working hard to achieve it, fighting through adversity and then, with a little luck, taking home the grand prize.

Repeating can be even harder with a target on your back and a “dynasty” label getting mentioned. The Watkins Mud Hens know that feeling all too well. They recently won their fifth straight Iowa Amateur Baseball Association state title.

This year was a particular challenge after having to replace several members from the 2011 team.

“Going into this year, we really didn’t know what to expect,” Manager Randy Walter said. “We had to replace four position players and our best pitcher from last year. We expected it to be tough.”

Replacing that many players is a daunting task, but the Mud Hens succeeded and compiled a 25-11 record. That loss count is a little high for this team, but things started to click as the season wore on.

“We had a lot of guys playing different positions and it was rough for a while,” Walter, 48, said.

All championship teams need players to come up big when it’s needed most. Former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep Danny Bales did just that, recording a 7-1 pitching record and earning MVP honors at the state tournament.

“Also, (ex-Solon star) Brandon Shulista came in and threw the ball very well for us,” Walter said. “And it helps to have a great closer in Luke Franzenburg.”

Walter, who has been involved with the Watkins baseball program for 30 years as a player and manager, said it wasn’t just pitchers who were on top of their game.

“Travis Welsch has been outstanding for us for some time now and continues to play well,” he said. “In addition, Ryan Wessels and Seth Patterson both played very well this season. We also had a nice year from Phil Keppler, who was an all-conference player for Iowa.”

What’s next for the Mud Hens? Six state titles in a row?

“We had a team motto this year, ‘drive for five,’” Walter said. “I figure we may lose two to four players and we may be one of the older teams in the state. But we are ready to come back and give it a shot.”

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