GRAND CHUTE – Sun Prairie was a big-inning ballclub on Thursday.
And that quality – scoring 21 runs in three innings in two games -- produced a WIAA-best ninth state championship in baseball for the Cardinals.
Top-seeded and top-ranked Sun Prairie scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and six more runs in the sixth during an 11-2 victory over second-seeded and second-ranked Bay Port in the WIAA Division 1 championship Thursday night at Fox Cities Stadium.
That result followed a 10-7 victory over Menomonee Falls in the earlier semifinal – a game in which Sun Prairie took advantage of five Phoenix errors and scored 10 first-inning runs.
In the final, the Cardinals (29-2) scored five runs -- all after two were out -- on four hits, three walks and one hit batter in the fifth, breaking up a scoreless game with the Pirates (26-2).
“We told these kids, `Stick with the plan. Eventually over seven innings, we are going to get our runs,’’’ said Sun Prairie coach Rob Hamilton, who’s led the Cardinals to six state titles. “We aren’t going to panic and let’s just stick with the plan. And they did. Credit to them.”
Junior shortstop Davis Hamilton – Rob Hamilton’s son -- jumped on a fastball and drove in the game’s first run with a single to right field.
“Walking up to the plate, I knew it was time to get it done,” Hamilton said. “A lot of the seniors put the pressure on us all offseason to get it done (particularly after a runner-up finish in 2019), and they really pushed us all. All the credit to them. It was definitely special. It was a team win. It’s a great feeling.”
Rob Hamilton said: “Obviously, it’s special because it was my son. I’m really happy for him. But I would have been just as happy if it would have been somebody else.”
Senior Josh Caron -- a Nebraska commit who started at catcher prior to picking up the victory with three innings of relief work -- then blasted a two-run triple to dead center field.
“That was a great team win,” said Caron, the Big Eight Conference player of the year. “I couldn’t be more proud of everyone. I’m proud of myself, too. … From the beginning of the season, I wanted to be the guy. I think I did that all season long. I’m on top of the world right now.”
After senior second baseman Carson Shepard’s single leading off in the first, Bay Port starting pitcher Gavin Rusch didn’t allow another hit until the bottom of the fifth.
But senior designated hitter Carter Wambach singled to right with one out. On a hit-and-run play, pinch runner Connor Stauff advanced to third on junior right fielder Addison Ostrenga’s single to right.
Hamilton followed with his hit to break the ice, then Caron tripled, making it 3-0.
“It was a curveball,” Caron said. “I actually saw him pre-grip it. … I got ready for it and I was all over it.”
Pirates senior Carl Cano replaced Rusch but he walked three and hit a batter. Walks to senior center fielder Durlin Radlund, who drove in three runs overall, and senior first baseman Brady Stevens scored runs.
“We barreled up a lot of balls,” Hamilton said. “We knew eventually they were going to start falling. It just happened that inning we barreled up a couple and they all fall in. … It’s a really hard-working team. I’m just really proud.”
Bay Port rallied with two runs in the sixth on senior designated hitter James Bornick’s two-out, two-run single.
But the Cardinals responded with six runs in the bottom of the sixth, taking an 11-2 lead. Hamilton’s two-run single to center increased Sun Prairie’s lead to 7-2. Radlund added a two-run single and Wambach had a two-run double.
Sophomore right-hander Jackson Hunley, who pitched the first three innings against Menomonee Falls, also started the second game and threw four scoreless innings, permitting three hits.
Bay Port had three hits in the second inning, but two costly base running mistakes kept the Pirates off the board.
“I thought we did pretty well,” Bay Port coach Harvey Knutson said. “We made a couple mistakes early, kids just trying to be aggressive. We just didn’t take advantage of some situations offensively that we had. Defensively, I thought we played really well. The pitching was really good. It came down to their couple big innings.”
The Cardinals committed five errors in the semifinal and Rob Hamilton said the coaching staff encouraged the team prior to the final.
“We just said, `We know you can play better than this. How about if we make this our best game of the year. Why not?’’’ Hamilton said.
Sun Prairie made its 16th state tournament appearance. The Cardinals had finished second in their last two state final appearances (in 2017 and 2019), and used the 2019 finish as motivation this season.
The 2020 spring season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sun Prairie added to its state championship total, which leads the WIAA membership for baseball championships.
That included Sun Prairie winning three consecutive titles from 2012-14, including defeating Bay Port 13-1 in the 2012 state title game.
“It’s definitely cool playing for the Sun Prairie Cardinals,” Caron said. “Winning the state championship is the goal from Day One. I’m so happy to be part of a team like that.”