GRAND CHUTE — A spirited three-run rally in the top of the sixth inning Thursday night had the Sun Prairie baseball team on the verge of another state championship for the storied program.
But Eau Claire North senior center fielder Sam Stange had other ideas.
The 6-foot, 185-pound left-handed swinging Stange — a University of Wisconsin hockey commit who was selected this winter as the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association state prep player of the year — blasted a two-out, three-run homer to right field in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“It felt good off the bat,” Stange said.
The homer propelled Eau Claire North from a two-run deficit to a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Sun Prairie in the WIAA Division 1 state championship game at Fox Cities Stadium.
“I feel proud (of the team), but at the same time disappointed because I feel like we really could have gotten this one,” said Sun Prairie sophomore second baseman Carson Shepard, whose two-run double gave the Cardinals a 4-2 lead in the sixth. “And it would have meant the world to everybody, especially because we started (the season) so slow and nobody thought we would make it here.
“Once we did, we thought we could have it all, believing in ourselves, but it didn’t happen.”
It was the second title in 14 state appearances for the Huskies (25-4), who won 11 consecutive games and 22 of their final 23 games to close the season. Their most recent title was in 2011.
Sun Prairie (24-8), also Division 1 state runner-up in 2017, was thwarted in its bid for the program’s ninth state title in its 15th state appearance.
“I feel bad for all of (the players),” said Sun Prairie coach Rob Hamilton, whose Big Eight Conference runner-up team had won 19 of its past 21 games entering the title contest. “It was just a gut-wrenching loss. It doesn’t get much tougher.”
Afterward, Hamilton told the players how proud he was of them. “To be one of the top two teams standing is quite an accomplishment,” he said.
The Cardinals rallied from a 2-1 deficit with three runs in the sixth.
After junior catcher Matt DePrey walked, pinch runner Brady Stevens advanced to second on a sacrifice and to third on a groundout. Stevens scored the tying run when pinch hitter Alec Schmitz hit a grounder and reached on a throwing error by Huskies senior shortstop Carter Hesselman.
Senior center fielder Jacob Powley reached on another Huskies’ error. Shepard — on a 2-2 pitch from Eau Claire North senior Joel Zachow, on in relief of starter Austin Goetsch — then delivered his two-run double to left field, putting Sun Prairie on top 4-2.
“He threw me a fastball,” Shepard said. “I knew I would get something to hit. … It ended up a little inside. I turned it. I could have got it stronger, but I got enough. I got it out on the head, and I felt pretty good.”
Sun Prairie senior Logan Lange, who had blanked the Huskies after coming on in relief in the second inning, retired the first two Eau Claire North hitters in the bottom of the sixth.
But senior right fielder Gabe O’Brien singled to right and Hesselman walked, bringing up Stange, whom the Cardinals considered walking.
During a mound visit prior to Stange’s at-bat, Hamilton said he praised Lange for how he had been pitching and told Lange — who finished with six strikeouts in 4⅔ innings — to try to keep the ball low and away from Stange.
“He’s a really good hitter,” Hamilton said. “Logan Lange pitched his heart out and just pitched awesome. This game wouldn’t have come down to it if Logan Lange wasn’t who he was today. He was awesome.”
Stange said he didn’t expect to be walked, which would have loaded the bases.
“I guess I wasn’t really looking for anything; (I was) just sitting on the fastball,” Stange said. “I think he left a changeup up.”
He said the home run ranked at the top of a stellar prep sports career.
“Right now, it does, for sure,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
The Huskies struck first with two runs in the bottom of the second. Eau Claire North junior catcher Joe Feck knocked in the two runs with a one-out double to the right-center gap.
The Cardinals cut the deficit to 2-1 in the third on junior right fielder Spencer Bartel’s RBI single.
After Shepard was hit by a pitch with one out in the third, sophomore designated hitter Liam Moreno reached on a hard-hit ball to short that Hesselman couldn’t come up with. Shepard and Moreno advanced to third and second, respectively, on the play ruled an error. Bartel then delivered his run-scoring single.
Cardinals sophomore Josh Caron grounded to third, but Huskies freshman third baseman Gabriel Richardson threw a dart home to Feck, who tagged Moreno for the second out.
The Huskies threatened in the fourth, but the Cardinals’ defense came up with a big play.
Huskies senior left fielder Keegan Dehnke led off with a double down the left-field line. Senior right fielder Gabe O’Brien singled to left, but Cardinals sophomore left fielder Durlin Radlund gunned a throw home to catcher DePrey, who applied a sweep tag on Dehnke for the first out.
Sun Prairie 001 003 0 — 4 4 2
Eau Claire North 020 003 x —5 8 4
Pitchers (ip-h-r-er-bb-so) — SP: Wendler (1.1-4-2-1-0); Lange (L; 4.2-4-3-3-4-6); ECN: Goetsch (5.2-3-3-0-2); Zachow (W; 1.1-1-1-0-0-1). HBP — Goetsch (Shepard).
Leading hitters — SP: Shepard 2x2. 2B: Shepard. ECN: O’Brien 2x4, Dehnke 2x3. 2B: Feck, Dehnke. HR: Stange. S: Knorr. SB: Radlund, Powley; Dehnke. LOB: SP 7; ECN 8.