JORDAN — Four seniors from Wabasso High School ended their athletic careers with a state championship Friday.
They are shortstop/pitcher Christopher Eichten, first/second baseman Mike Wotschke, catcher Andy Rohlik and right fielder Drew Heiling.
"Being the best in the state, it feels good," said Rohlik, who has played three years of varsity baseball. "You have to feel good when you are the best in the state, with all the teams in Minnesota. It seems like half of the Class AA schools dropped down."
The Rabbits defeated Hawley, a former Class AA school, in the semifinals.
"This means the world," said Eichten, who played on the varsity as a freshman. "It shows all the hard work and the baseball the last three summers has paid off. Playing VFW (at Redwood Falls) — and all those games — it helps."
"It doesn't get any better," said Wotschke, who played two years of varsity baseball. "You are on top. It's the last sport of your senior year. You can win in football and basketball, and there's another sport. You win in baseball, and that's it."
Wabasso was rated No. 1 in football, but it couldn't get out of the section tournament. Many of the same players reached the crowning moment in baseball.
"It's amazing," said Heiling, who has played two years of varsity baseball. "It's the best thing I could have imagined for my last year."
The seniors provided the leadership, while underclassmen also played key roles in the Rabbits capturing the Class A title Friday in Jordan.
Juniors like left fielder Jacob Bierl, pitcher/center fielder Johnny Pistulka, second baseman/pitcher Micah Gronli and third baseman Holden Salfer made solid contributions.
Ditto for sophomore center fielder Derek Riley. Eichten, Wotschke and Rohlik comprised the 3-4-5 spots in Wabasso's batting order. Friday, they combined for five hits. Eichten and Wotschke went 2-for-4 and Rohlik was 1-for-3. Heiling, who batted seventh, batted 2-for-4 with two RBI.
For the third straight tournament game, the Rabbits were in double figures for hits, finishing with 13 against Southland. That was after getting 13 hits against New Ulm Cathedral and 14 hits against Hawley.
"I think we averaged 10 or more hits a game," Wabasso coach Chad Olson said. "That's speaking a lot against this quality of pitching."
"Everybody hit good," Heiling said. "We didn't swing at many bad pitches. We swing at what we like."
The Rabbits' hitters showed good discipline in the box, staying off pitches outside of the strike zone.
Wabasso's football season ended prematurely in a section finals loss to Adrian.
In baseball, the Rabbits were able to avenge that setback, winning back-to-back games to claim the Section 3A championship. Those two wins (6-5, 12-2 over the Dragons) were the turning point of the 2008 season, in which Wabasso finished 25-6.
"When we beat Adrian, we knew we could come to state, where anything could happen," said Eichten, who went 3-for-3 with two doubles and four RBI as the hero in the seventh-inning comeback in the state tournament semifinals.
"We've been here before (qualifying also in 2007, finishing fourth). Being there last year helped. Last year, it was the first time for a lot of kids going to state. This year, we knew what to expect. We wanted it more. Winning the state was our goal."
"I figured if we beat Adrian twice in the championship, that we could be state champions," Rohlik. "After that, we were pretty confident."
It was the third state championship for Wabasso High School, the first in boys sports. The Rabbits won the state title in softball (1999) and in girls basketball (2003).