GRAND CHUTE — Afterward, senior center fielder Conner Funnell had no difficulty putting Sun Prairie’s historic run in perspective.
“Best program in the state,” Funnell said after he went 4-for-4 with two RBIs to help the Cardinals defeat Kimberly 5-2 Thursday night and become the first Division 1 team to win three consecutive WIAA baseball state titles.
“It speaks to the talent that we have at our young levels and how we develop players and just continue to compete every year. It just says a great deal about the coaching and the work ethic of our players.”
The title was Sun Prairie’s fifth in 10 seasons and its eighth overall, breaking a tie with Appleton West for the most in state history.
The only other program in the state to win titles in three consecutive seasons is Nekoosa in Class B from 1980-82.
Funnell led an 11-hit attack, and senior Ryan Curran scattered five hits in a complete-game effort for the Cardinals (27-5), who used a three-run sixth inning to pull away from the Papermakers (21-8).
“It is amazing,” Kimberly coach Ryan McGinnis said of Sun Prairie’s run. “They’re a good team. They were better than we were today.
“It’s fun to play against quality competition. They’re well-coached, they play hard. Our kids do, too.”
Curran entered the game with the fifth-most innings among Sun Prairie pitchers, but Cardinals coach Rob Hamilton picked the right-hander to start because of his experience on big stages both in baseball and as a quarterback in football.
After Kimberly scored twice in the fourth to take a 2-1 lead, Curran held the Papermakers scoreless the rest of the way.
“I told him when I gave him the ball, ‘I don’t expect to get this back from you,’ ” Hamilton said. “I really believed in Ryan. The last couple of games that he’s thrown for us, he’s been really, really sharp.
“He’s a senior, he’s the quarterback, he’s been a starter here for four years. He’s the guy we wanted out there and, boy, he sure proved us right.”
The Cardinals had scored a run in the first and another in the fifth to tie the game but left a combined four runners in scoring position in those innings.
Sun Prairie didn’t let another opportunity for a big inning slip away in the sixth.
The Cardinals loaded the bases with no outs on walks by Marquis Reuter and Coby Oswalt sandwiched around a single by Michael Garvey.
Drew Hamilton, the coach’s son, singled over a drawn-in infield to give Sun Prairie the lead for good, and courtesy runner Ben Hauser scored on a sacrifice fly by Justin Krebs to give the Cardinals a two-run cushion. Funnell followed with his fourth single of the day to make it 5-2.
Curran allowed two runners to reach base in the seventh, but Krebs snagged a line drive at short off the bat of Danny VandenBoom and threw to first to complete the double play and end the game.
It was a perfect way to end a season in which Sun Prairie overcame some early season struggles as it learned how to play with a giant target on its back.
“You’ve just got to play with swagger,” Funnell said. “You’ve got to act like you’re the defending state champions and go out and play like it. We did, and look what happened.”
Like Funnell, Curran was asked what it meant to be part of the Cardinals’ historic run.
“It’s just awesome,” Curran said. “It’s the greatest feeling in the world right now. Three in a row, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”