Five years removed from lengthy losing streak, Webster relishes state tournament berth

By Eric Kraushar

ScoreMonster Contributor

To fully appreciate what Webster’s 4-1 state-clinching victory over Faribault meant Aug. 10, a look into the not-so-distant past is needed. 

Webster, located in Rice County, at the junction of county roads 3 and 5, south of Elko New Market, was most known for losing with its amateur baseball team. Between 2014 and 2017, the Sox were defeated 51 consecutive times in regular season play in the Dakota-Rice-Scott League.

It wasn’t until July 14, 2017, a span of more than 1,000 days, that the streak came to an end on a bases-loaded walk in a 5-4 victory over New Prague in 2017. 

“We’d have nine or 10 guys show up. We always managed to get nine guys, but when you get to the park and there’s only five or six guys on the field, we were just hoping for a few more to play,” Brooks Prochaska, the longest-tenured Sox player, said.

It was Prochaska’s father, Mike, who called upon an old Union Hill teammate, Todd Klein, to lead Webster after longtime coach Mike Sandmann stepped down after more than 30 years as manager.

“(Mike Sandmann) kept this program afloat. Webster baseball wouldn’t be around without him,” Klein said. Sandmann remains involved with the upkeep of the baseball field as well as the 35- and 50-and-over teams.

Klein, a New Prague native, knew the key to turning around the team’s win-loss record was finding a youthful group to build with.

“I started with some people I knew, made some phone calls, a former Lakeville coach knew of a couple of guys that were looking to play. I live in New Prague, and Webster trying to compete for New Prague kids is hard to come by when there’s New Prague, Union Hill. St. Patrick, Veseli, St. Benedict,” Klein said.

He credits player Peter Grassl, who played for Lonsdale in 2021 before joining Webster this season, for his role in connecting players to the Sox. Grassl is a Lakeville legion baseball coach.

Lakeville, a quick 13-mile drive to Webster, is home to 13 of the Sox players, including core players Jacob Beille, Sam Wareham and Alex Beumer. That connection allowed Webster to bring in Winona State University pitcher Peter Tveite and Jordan Huwe, who is in the St. John’s University program, this season.

“I was asked if they could play and I told them to come and try out. I saw Peter’s numbers at Winona and he was on the team,” Klein chuckled.

Tveite threw a complete game in a 9-3 playoff win over New Prague Aug. 7, adding a three-inning stint three nights later in a state-clinching save over Faribault, 4-1. Huwe threw the first six innings to earn the victory.

“Honestly, the identity of our team is pitching and defense. We started playing really good baseball after the Fourth of July break. We’re prideful in our defense. That’s something I have tried to get the boys to buy-in on. Our pitching was what carried us in regions. Peter is a dominant pitcher and Jordan isn’t far behind,” Klein said.

“That game against Faribault, it was the least stressful of all of the games in the playoffs because I knew Jordan and Peter had it under control,” he added. 

Prochaska, the unofficial assistant coach of the Sox, is a veteran of the DRS League, having started after his sophomore season at New Prague High School. He’s now in his 19th season, having played in Union Hill prior. Klein was Prochaska’s coach through the youth levels.

“What we did with Todd was take it to another level. We were able to get out there and recruit players. We have some good ball players, good kids. You can tell we’re definitely younger at times, but that’s been the direction of the league. Most of the league were veterans and now there’s more youth,” Prochaska said.

Klein set out with a three-year plan to raise Webster to a caliber team that could contend for a spot in the state tournament. After his first season, the shortened COVID-year, the transformation began in 2021.

“I thought maybe my three-year plan was a little aggressive. But then the guys showed up this year, their maturity level was different, guys grew up over the last year. I look at a kid like Will Wareham, a 17-year-old on our team, but he plays like he’s 25. He’s going to be special,” Klein said. 

The days of hoping for nine players are over in Webster.

“For the first time in my six years with Webster, we actually have depth on our bench,” said Prochaska, the starting second baseman, who is having a career year, hitting around .360. “Really, pitching is our big thing. Without those guys we wouldn’t be the team we are. But when we have our full lineup, our hitting can win us games, too, and we play solid defense.”

When the final pitch was thrown in Faribault Aug. 10, Webster had clinched its first trip to the Minnesota State Amateur Baseball Tournament, everyone from the players, the families, the long-time Webster baseball supporters, were eager to celebrate.

“I’ve played baseball for 19 seasons. We won a few state championships when I was younger. We got to play in Omaha. This is the most fun I’ve had in a baseball season,” Prochaska said.

Webster’s state debut is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20 in Dundas. Just a 13-mile drive from the Sox’s home park. The first-round opponent is the Milroy Irish.

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