Athlete of the Week: State Champion Webster Tigers baseball team

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APPLETON, Wis. (WEAU) -- The Webster Tigers baseball team won the Div. 3 state baseball championship in dominating fashion last Thursday. The team is our Osseo Automotive Athletes of the Week. SportScene 13’s Neil Hebert reports.

Before 2017, Webster had never made it to the state tournament. Last year, they were ousted in the semifinal. This year, they got their redemption and won the state title.

“It feels amazing. It all paid off,” Hunter Gustafson, a senior infielder on the squad said with a beaming smile on his face, but all that success doesn’t happen overnight; a culture change for the entirety of Webster baseball has turned the program around.

“We’ve definitely had a community that’s bought into baseball,” Jarrod Washburn, the 3rd year head coach of the Tigers, said. “When I retired, I started coaching the youth stuff. We’ve had a lot of kids buy in and put in a lot of time, starting with the third graders on up.”

“Little kids, younger kids come watch us at these games and they want to be just like us,” Gustafson said of the Webster youngsters. “We're doing big stuff for them and they're playing their heart out every day. They're playing baseball and loving it."

“It’s a brotherhood,” Jack Washburn, a junior pitcher/utility man for Webster, said. “We’re all so close together from school to baseball. We’re all right there for each other. I would have these guys behind my back when I pitch over anybody else. It’s that strong.”

Ranked #1 in Wisconsin every week in 2018 except one, the Tigers wore the biggest target in Div. 3, but staying focused on the task-at-hand, a return trip to Appleton, wasn’t an issue.

“That’s the beautiful thing – it wasn’t a challenge at all,” Jarrod said. “They wanted to win it (in 2017). It hurt them. They weren’t happy just getting here, so they set the goal of getting back here and coming home with a trophy. They worked hard and kept their nose to the grindstone and they got the job done. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

“We took it step-by-step: conference, regionals, sectionals, then state champs,” Jack said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these guys. We worked so hard at it.”

The Tigers bats were roaring in the postseason; besides a 2-1 win in the sectional final over Elk Mound, Webster outscored opponents 56-16, including an 8-2 victory to seal the deal.

“It’s just that kind of lineup,” Gustafson said. “Everyone can hit on the team for power, everyone on the team can hit for average, and it’s just awesome to come up with hits even though our pitching is dominant.”

Oregon St. commit, junior Jack Washburn, threw 5 innings, struck out 11 and got the win in the title game, but he gave up 2 runs right away in the 1st due to some nerves. His battery mate, junior catcher, Trevor Gustafson, says Washburn came in the dugout and took a deep breath.

“He came right back into the dugout, took a deep breath and he knows he’s got good game – he just had to relax and throw strikes,” Trevor said of his pitcher. “The only way he’s going to hurt himself is by putting somebody on. He limited that – perfect. That’s it.”

As for Jack's dad and former Major League pitcher, Jarrod Washburn, he's reached the pinnacle of baseball: a World Series title with the Angels back in '02, but coaching his son to a WIAA state title doesn't take a backseat.

"I don't think there's one that's better than the other; coaching and how happy I am for these kids and how proud I am for these kids ranks right up there with winning a World Series,” Washburn said. “I can't pick one over the other."