The Sun Prairie Red Birds are headed to the Final Four. Those words haven’t been spoken in over a decade — 11 years to be exact — but that all will change this Sunday when the 2019 version of the local Home Talent League team plays in the round-robin championship series.
The Red Birds (19-10 overall, 14-4 Sunday League), made up of a mix of young and not-so-young talent from some of the greatest Sun Prairie high school teams ever assembled, will go into the three-week battle with Evansville, Sauk Prairie and Verona, with the winner claiming the 2019 HTL Grand Championship.
Sun Prairie owns 13 of those league titles — second only to Middleton’s 15 — but the organization has not raised the title plaque since 2005.
The Red Birds punched their Final Four ticket with a 7-5 win over the Monona Braves, avenging two regular-season losses to their Eastern Section rivals. That win came a week after beating the DeForest Demons 4-1 in the semifinals.
Sun Prairie has been stinging the ball in the postseason, but three players in particular have all but carried the offense. Right fielder Jack Maastricht, the Eastern Section batting champion after hitting .500 during the regular season, is 7-for-16 (.437) with three RBIs in his last four games, while catcher Ty Hamilton is batting .364 with a double and one RBI in the last three.
But the player that teams fear pitching to right now is Aaron Schmidt. The left fielder who bats sixth in the order is hitting at a .583 clip (7-for-12) with four of those hits going for extra bases.
The Red Birds lost a key player, but also had one return in the last two weeks. Veteran designated hitter Randy Molina suffered a season-ending knee injury in the semifinal game. But last week first baseman Kasey Bass, a big left-handed hitter much like Molina, returned from playing summer baseball in Connecticut.
Nate Hoffman will likely take the bump when the Red Birds face Evansville Sunday. In 15 postseason innings the veteran right-hander has allowed just three earned runs while striking out 20 versus just three walks.
Both Sun Prairie Red Birds Final Four games will be played at Marshall Firemen’s Park.
Here’s a look at the other three Final Four teams:
The Jays are representing the Southeast Section for a second-straight year.
Evansville is red hot winning six consecutive games. The Jays had to win their final four regular-season games just to qualify for the playoffs, capping things off with a 4-1 win over Fort Atkinson to earn the fourth and final spot in the Southeast.
Joe Cox (.409) and Johannes Haakenson (.404) lead the offense, while pitchers Jameson Lavery and Brian Cashore.
As the No. 4 seed, the Jays upset both No. 4 Albion 5-2 and No. 2 Stoughton 7-3 on the road.
Evansville has never won a HTL championship.
SAUK PRAIRIE TWINS (16-3)
Sauk won the Northern Section championship with come-from-behind wins over Black Earth (7-5), Ashton (4-3) and Muscoda (6-5).
The Twins are led by the three-headed hitting monster known as Alex Mayer (.394), Sam Koenig (.392) and Dylan Slotty (.385).
Sauk is seeking its first HTL championship since 1955.
VERONA CAVALIERS (18-1)
Verona is no stranger to the Final Four, having played in eight over the last 10 seasons.
And during those eight appearances the Cavaliers have won six championships, including the 2018 title.
Verona won the Northern Section championship with wins over West Middleton (2-0), Shullsburg/Benton (11-1) and Blanchardville (5-1).