Steve Goes admits he did not see it coming.
The Sheboygan Legion Post 83 baseball manager said winning the Class AAA State Championship for the first time was not a goal at the start of last season, and he had higher expectations in previous years.
Then on July 2, Sheboygan’s record was 11-13.
The team, however, went 18-6 the rest of the way, capped by a 5-2 victory over Eau Claire in the state final after losing to them, 10-0, earlier in the day in the double-elimination tournament.
Sheboygan finished 29-19 and won state after never finishing higher than third place in the tourney.
“I remember sitting at the 2017 state tournament up in Kimberly with my son,” Goes said. “We watched a couple of games and I remember thinking to myself ‘we are so far away from contending.’ because we had finished right around .500 in 2017.
“Even the first part of last summer, we made a lot of mental mistakes and we got blown out quite a bit, too. Now granted, we were playing some good teams. But two days in a row we lost to two teams that I’d never lost to before. Little by little, we started to put it together.”
It was the second trip to state in the last three seasons for Sheboygan, and what stood out most for the manager was how everybody bought into a common goal.
“After we upset the No. 1-ranked team in the state in De Pere in the first game of the regional tournament, we really felt that we had a shot,” Goes said. “Everybody was after the same goal. There was no selfishness. There were not guys on the end of the bench saying ‘I should be playing.’ We had no issues, player-wise.”
So much so, Goes said on the way home from the national tournament – Sheboygan was 2-2 – he told himself to use this team as a model for every other one he coaches, forever.
“They felt they could go out and beat anybody on any day,” Goes said. “They were never intimidated. We’d go over scouting reports on other teams and guys would be like: ‘screw it, let’s just go beat them.’ It was that kind of mind set.”
This is now
Any team that wins its first championship also gets a chance to do something new the following season: defend its title.
It’s your turn, Sheboygan Legion Post 83 legion baseball team.
Sheboygan opens the 2019 season on Wednesday as the reigning Wisconsin Class AAA State Champion after never finishing higher than third place in its history.
As a result, manager Steve Goes is asking his squad to stay in the moment and take every game seriously.
“We’re going to take everybody’s best shot,” he said. “And we need to be ready for it every night. A lot of teams we’re playing, that’s going to be their regular-season World Series. And the schedule I created this year is far and away the most challenging schedule. We’re playing a ton of good teams.
“We’re going to have to be ready each and every night.”
After finishing 29-19 last season, including a 2-2 record in the Great Lakes Regional, Sheboygan has to replace its No. 2 pitcher and three positional players.
The team’s most valuable player, North’s Brent Widder (a University of Evansville recruit) is among five of the first seven batters in the lineup that returns from last year.
No. 1 pitcher Nick Akstulewicz, as well as Ethan Scherg and Nathan Hendrikse are also back, and Goes calls his staff the deepest he’s had in seven years.
Sheboygan has also added at least four key players, including North’s Jacob Neese. Plymouth’s Aiden Reilly and Cooper Gosse join him, as well as Cedar Grove’s Bradley Katte.
“On paper, we have as much talent or more talent than we did last year,” Goes said. “We have more depth than we did last year. … We have some interchangeable parts.”