One of the elite teams
Before the high school baseball season began, Washington head coach Nathan Miller described what, in his mind, it took to become an elite baseball team.
He said that the Demons were in the “good category” in 2010, when Washington won the Southeast Conference title before losing to Mt. Pleasant in the district final. But he said “elite teams” are the ones that make it to the state tournament, and that the four state championship teams fall into the “super elite” category. Miller wanted his team to be an elite team when the season was over and done with, which meant he and the Demons had their sights set on playing in the state tournament in Des Moines.
“Our goal is to be one of those elite teams, and our kids have been working really hard to take that next step up,” he said. “We’ll see how the season plays out.”
As it turned out, the season played out pretty well for the Demons. Washington finished the regular season with a record of 26-7 and 12-4 in the conference, good for second place in the SEC.
Over the last week of the regular season, the Demons really began to click. Washington defeated a solid Pella squad and then swept doubleheaders with Benton, Fairfield and Fort Madison to close out the regular season on a seven-game winning streak.
Washington took the momentum into the postseason, shelling Mt. Pleasant star pitcher Braden Shull for four runs in the first three innings of the district semifinal. The Panthers rallied to tie the game and send it to extra innings, but junior Jake Redlinger hit a clutch single in the bottom of the eighth that gave the Demons a thrilling 5-4 win. The postseason victory also got a monkey off the Demons’ back, as Washington had lost to rival Mt. Pleasant in the playoffs two of the previous three years.
Washington then knocked off a pesky Fort Madison team 5-1 to win the district championship. And the Demons made things look easy in the substate final, whipping Centerville 16-0 in six innings to earn Washington’s first trip to state since 1998, when Miller was a senior at WHS.
The Demons looked jittery in their first state tournament game at Principal Park, only coming up with one hit through the first four innings. But junior Austin Knupp, Washington’s No. 9 hitter, smacked a double off the base of the wall in the bottom of the fifth and then did everything he could to fire up his teammates as he stood on second base. Knupp’s hit brought the Demons to life, and they scored eight runs in two innings to rally for an 8-4 win.
Washington started slow again in the state semifinals, falling behind Harlan 7-0. This time, the Demons couldn’t come back, and they lost 8-2. Washington’s players didn’t look happy as they hoisted their state semifinalist trophy.
But as the Demons took pictures with the trophy at Thursday night’s team banquet, they had smiles on their faces. Nearly two weeks later, I think they realized what an amazing accomplishment it was to be one of the final four teams standing in Class 3A. They were one of the elite teams in the state of Iowa this summer.