GRAND CHUTE — Robbie Knorr hadn’t started a single game pitching this season nor did he have a win to his credit. So when Sun Prairie head coach Rob Hamilton told him he was starting the WIAA Division 1 state semifinal game against second-ranked Burlington, he was all in.
Knorr pitched a complete game, scattering seven hits while allowing one unearned run in leading the Cardinals to a 6-1 victory, and trip to the state championship game.
“I wanted to pitch so badly, today or on Thursday,” said Knorr. “I wanted the ball.”
It was the team that talked Hamilton into giving Knorr the once-in-a-lifetime start.
“He’s got some good stuff. We had a couple of other choices and we were going back and forth and I actually asked one of our players, and he said, ‘Robbie’s pretty tough.’ I agreed and we just rolled with it,” said Hamilton. “He’s a senior and we expect seniors to come here and play well.
“That was one of the best games we’ve had pitched here.”
The Cardinals staked Knorr to an early five-run lead, and what nerves he may have had went out the window.
“Once they gave me that five runs I knew I would settle down and pitch my game,” Knorr said.
Sophomore Josh Caron drove in three of those runs with opposite-field singles off Burlington’s Trent Turzenski, a Valparaiso recruit.
“I felt really comfortable,” said Caron, who went 3-for-3 with a walk. “Hitting to me is all mental and I just play the mental game; I do it for the team, not for myself.”
In the bottom of the first Liam Moreno walked and went to second on a wild pitch, before Caron blooped a single into shallow right field for an RBI.
The inning continued when Matt DePrey reached on a dropped third strike, Knorr walked to load the bases and senior Benett Halbleib lined a Turzenski pitch just by short scoring two for a 3-0 Sun Prairie advantage.
The Demons (24-6) got one of those runs back in the top of the second when Danny Peterson singled and scored when Sun Prairie committed an error while turning a double play.
But the Cardinals did turn two on the very next batter, as Knorr got Tucker Strommen to ground into the inning-ending 6-4-3.
“Oh my gosh, that was a huge double play,” said Hamilton. “Bases were loaded and (Knorr) was pitching well but everything they hit had eyes. Our kids did a great job of not rushing it, turned the double play and we did not look back.”
It was one of three double plays the Cardinals turned in the semifinal game.
Caron delivered in the clutch again, fighting off a 1-2 Turzenski offering that landed in right to score Jacob Powley and Carson Shepard for a 5-1 lead in the second.
“He obviously throws hard, everyone knows that,” Caron said of the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Turzenski. “Just kept it simple, not trying to hit home runs.”
Sun Prairie scored four of its first five runs after there were two outs.
Sun Prairie added an insurance run in the sixth when DePrey suicide squeezed in Bartel, who had tripled for the 10th time this season.
Sun Prairie (24-7) will face Eau Claire North (24-4) in the Division 1 state championship game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
It will be the 10th state championship game appearance for the program, which has an all-division record eight titles, the last coming in 2014.
Since starting the season 5-5, Sun Prairie has won 19 of its last 21 games.
“The kids played well and they’re deserving of it; they beat a really good Burlington team,” said Hamilton. “We’re pretty excited.”
SUN PRAIRIE 6, BURLINGTON 1
Burlington 010 000 0 — 1 7 1
Sun Prairie 320 001 x — 6 7 1
Burlington (ab-r-h-rbi) — Dietz 3-0-0-0, Krause 3-0-2-0, Adams 3-0-1-0, Turzenski 3-0-1-0, Traxinger 0-0-0-0, Strommen 3-0-0-0, Damon 2-0-1-0, DeGroot 1-0-0-0, Peterson 3-1-1-0, Palmquist 2-0-0-0, Rozell 2-0-1-0, Brenner 0-0-0-0. Totals — 25-1-7-0.
Sun Prairie (ab-r-h-rbi) — Shepard 3-1-0-0, Moreno 3-1-0-0, Bartel 4-1-1-0, Caron 3-1-3-3, DePrey 3-0-1-1, Radlund 0-1-0-0, Hamilton 0-0-0-0, Knorr 3-0-0-0, Stevens 0-0-0-0, Halbleib 3-0-1-2, Ostrenga 0-0-0-0, Wendler 3-0-1-0, Powley 2-1-0-0, Fluno 0-0-0-0. Totals — 27-6-7-6.
3B — Bartel.
Pitching HO — Turzenski 6 in 3 2/3, Dietz 1 in 2 1/3; Knorr 7 in 7. ER — Turzenski 5, Dietz 1; Knorr 0. SO — Turzenski 7, Dietz 2; Knorr 4. BB — Turzenski 3, Dietz 1; Knorr 1.
W — Knorr (1-2). L — Turzenski (5-3).