Coaches, more often than not, aren’t fans of comparing championship teams. Although there are similarities there are also differences and coaches, in respect for their players, will tell you that each team has its own identity. For the 1994 Sun Prairie High School state baseball championship team, the foundation was built on extraordinary talent — especially pitching — confidence and cohesiveness.
Because of the success of the 1993 SPHS baseball team, and with six starters returning, starting catcher Mike Twedell said there was no doubt in many of the players’ minds that 1994 would be even better.
“I knew we were really going to be good and we had tons of confidence, but we didn’t know how good we were going to be,” he said. “I’d say we were naive how good we could be. But we were confident we could win the Big Eight. We were very business-like. What was interesting is that there really was no open positions which is unusual.”
Twedell, who also was all-conference in football, remembers losing to Menomonee in a 1993 WIAA football playoff game and how the subject on the way home turned to baseball.
“We were disappointed that we had lost,” said Twedell, “but on the bus trip home, as much as we were upset, Andy Thompson, Scott Mueller, myself and others started talking baseball and how we needed to start getting ready for the season. And we put in our time during the off-season.”
When spring rolled around, Twedell became the recipient of catching two of the state’s best pitchers in college recruits Brian Sullivan and Andy Thompson.
“Handling two of the best pitchers in the state was phenomenal,” said Twedell. “And Ryan Woods, who was a junior, threw just as hard if not harder than those two.”
Repeating as Big Eight champions came as no surprise to Twedell, and neither did winning WIAA regional and sectional titles.
“Never in my mind did I ever feel we were going to lose,” he said. “Literally, when we lined up for the sectional championship picture, I knew this is where we were supposed to be.”
At the state finals, Twedell said the opener against Madison La Follette caused him the most uneasiness of the three games.
“We knew them the best because we had played them twice already and we had grown up playing with those guys,” he said. “They had a good team and a lefty pitcher who had great stuff. So my recollection is I was both excited and nervous playing them.”
After topping La Follette, 3-1, Sun Prairie opened up a sizable 8-2 lead against Sheboygan South in the semi-finals before holding on for an 8-7 win.
“We took care of business early, but, unfortunately, we lost some of our focus,” he said.
Twedell said what he remembers most about the state title game against Appleton West was the pitching of Jim Mayfield and Andy Thompson and Thompson striking out Matt Erickson, who had previously never struck out during his high school career.
Both Thompson and Erickson shared the honor of being named the state’s co-players of the year.
“The feeling after that game was pretty awesome because it was uncharted territory for most of us,” said Twedell. “And I give credit to guys like Dave Suchomel and players from the 1974 team because they were so great to us. I think we created a culture that continues today that has created a winning attitude in all sports.”
Twedell said he recently attended a SPHS baseball game and saw first hand the continuation of a successful baseball program.
“You can see it the pre-game warm-ups how the players are business-like and that’s a testament to Coach (Rob) Hamilton, along with Coach (Garry) Bahe and the other former baseball coaches at Sun Prairie.”
A majority of the mound victories in ‘94 belonged to Brian Sullivan, who besides being named the Big Eight Conference player of the year, posted a 9-0 record and earned first-team all-state before pitching at the college level — starting at UW-Milwaukee, along with playing semi-pro baseball for the Oshkosh Giants and Janesville Aces.
“I think one thing we had was confidence going into that season,” he said. “And the fact we had all played together starting in Little League and then Junior and Senior League and finally high school, we knew what each of us could do and we depended on one another and got the job done. The cohesiveness was second to none.
“There really wasn’t much difference between our junior and senior seasons. Not getting to state our junior year was a disappointment, but it made us work harder going into our senior year. The talent was the same, but I don’t think we had the same confidence as we did as seniors.”
Sullivan said he can’t think of one particular thing that stands out in ‘94 other than it was a great and memorable year.
“The time frame of 20 years (between title seasons) was something we used as a motivator. It all kind of came together when we got the trophy and came home and realized all the work we had put into the season and all Coach Bahe and Coach Hamilton had taught us. It was just a great experience,” he said.
Sullivan added, “We probably had as much talent as any team in the state and many players on that team moved on to play college baseball or semi-pro or pro baseball. I hope what we did in ‘94 set the stage for subsequent teams.”
No other player was recognized more or talked about more that season — other than possibly Matt Erickson of Appleton West — than Andy Thompson, who went on to play nine seasons of Major League baseball starting with the Toronto Blue Jays.
All the attention paid to Thompson was well-deserved as he sparkled in the spotlight from start to end. But Thompson deflected praise to his teammates, crediting them for winning the state title.
“What I remember most is the fulfillment made by the nucleus of players to reach our goal of winning state,” he said. “Honestly, what I was most proud of was the guys who didn’t receive the accolades or awards, but were the role players who did their job in helping us achieve our goal. Those guys really stepped up.
“We had some great leaders and coaching staff as well. Coach Bahe was a calming factor for us and Coach Hamilton was a fiery young coach who got us going. So we had the best of both worlds.”
Thompson himself had quite an eye-catching performance at the Beaver Dam Sectional where he hit for the cycle in victories over Oshkosh West and Fond du Lac.
“I couldn’t believe they were still pitching to me,” he said. “Coach Hamilton said the same thing and we reminisce about it when we get together. So that was a fond memory. But everybody did their part and stepped up.”
Some “bad blood” and not wanting to lose to a team they had already defeated twice during the regular season fueled the Cards’ motivation in the state tourney opener against Madison La Follette, according to Thompson.
Thompson’s first inning home run and Sullivan’s pitching paved the way for the season sweep against the Lancers.
“I can’t say enough about our pitching staff,” said Thompson. “Brian and I were the aces, but we had others who also pitched well. I was more of a power pitcher and Brian was about location. He had four pitches he could throw for strikes. Brian was just a tremendous pitcher and he had unbelievable control and could really hit his spots. I think he really got into a batter’s head, so I give him a lot of credit.”
Sullivan’s mound win vs. La Follette pitted the Cards against Sheboygan South.
“We got off to a comfortable lead (8-2) and then put it on cruise control, so maybe we were looking ahead a bit and we were coming off an emotional high,” said Thompson.
Two home runs by Scott Mueller and one by Thompson, along with a diving catch by Ryan Pingel, preserved the 8-7 win. Thompson also played a major role on the mound after replacing starter Ryan Woods.
“It was one of those games where the high level players came through, but so did the role players,” said Thompson. “And I give our coaches a lot of credit for getting our intensity level back.”
Jim Mayfield (2 inn., 1 hit) and Thompson (5 inn., 1 hit) stymied Appleton West, 3-0, in the championship game.
“We played a tremendous team, so he (Mayfield) pitched amazing, and we played good defense, too,” said Thompson.
Thompson wasn’t sure he could contribute on the mound due to soreness in his arm. But he said Mueller gave him a pep talk while he was warming up in the bullpen that inspired his five innings of shutout baseball. He also credited catcher Mike Twedell for calling a good game.
Thompson said the culmination of playing together for so many years was ultimately rewarded in Wausau.
“Us playing together for so many years and having each others’ backs played a big role,” he said.
The cohesiveness and camaraderie, he added, holds a special meaning and memories for him.
“This was a goal (state) we had as young kids and we played together for so many years. Nowadays, you have club teams and kids that are going in different directions on different teams. That’s the norm today, but not then,” said Thompson. “That didn’t happen when we were playing. We were able to keep our team together. And we put a lot of time and effort into it.
“This was a special group of players. Playing with these guys give me better memories than when I played pro ball because of what we accomplished together and how close we were to each other.”
Thompson said the 1974 team also was an inspiration.
“Our team definitely wanted to do what the ‘74 team did,” he said. “And I think we started a winning tradition that has continued to this day. Coach Bahe set it in motion and Coach Hamilton has continued it. And even Coach (Dave) Veenendaal contributed. We were so blessed with great coaches.”
Tri-captain and first-team all-conference third baseman Scott Mueller had a good feeling that his senior baseball season was going to a special and memorable one.
“We had played together forever and ever from sixth grade on, so after we won conference my junior year our ultimate goal was to get to state where we expected to be,” said Mueller, who, along with a few of his other senior classmates, had been brought up to the varsity level their sophomore year and experienced some tournament success before falling short in reaching state.
As seniors, however, the Cardinals were poised to go far into the WIAA tournament season with their only loss of the regular season coming to Janesville Craig — “a stinker” of a defeat, Mueller said, but one the Cardinals bounced back from.
Reaching the state level came as no surprise to Mueller and was something he and his teammates expected.
“We had played so long together and put the time in working hard, plus we had good leadership in Andy Thompson, Brian Sullivan, Jeff Wurster, Mike Twedell and myself,” he said. “Plus, we held each other accountable. So getting to Wausau as a team felt natural because of the work we put in and the talent we had.”
Much like the feelings his teammates had, Mueller was both excited and nervous facing Madison La Follette in the state opener.
“They always gave us trouble,” he said of the Lancers. “We had beaten them twice by just one run in each game, so facing them a third time can be hard. But we had Andy Thompson and Brian Sullivan (pitchers) as equalizers and they both contributed in that game on the mound and at the plate.
Mueller said there was a feeling of relief among his teammates at the team dinner that night. Little did he know that relief wouldn’t last long the next day against Sheboygan South — despite the Cardinals opening up an 8-2 lead.
Mueller, fortunately, had a monster game at the plate, drilling a three-run home run in the first inning and a solo home run in the third inning. Mueller admitted he struggled prior to the game in batting practice against 1974 state champion Dave Suchomel. But a few adjustments, along with a new bat purchased by Ryan Pingel’s dad, enabled Mueller to figure out what he was doing wrong when game time rolled around.
While Mueller played a huge role in sending the Cardinals into the state title game, he praised Thompson, who hit a solo home run in the sixth inning and was able to shut down the Redwings on the mound.
“Andy had a home run that proved to be the winning run and once in came into pitch that gave us a lot of confidence,” said Mueller. “Ryan Woods had pitched a good game, but then he lost a little control and we had some errors. So it was a pretty nerve-wracking game.”
The two scoreless innings by Jim Mayfield and five scoreless innings by Thompson is what Mueller remembers most about the state championship game against Appleton West.
Mueller said the calming affect head coach Garry Bahe and assistant coach Rob Hamilton had on the players paid big dividends.
“Neither of the coaches never really panicked,” said Mueller. “And they told us to calm down and everything was going to be okay..”
Added Mueller, “After 20 years it was nice to win another state title. But we’re just a small piece of the puzzle. Sun Prairie has had some great teams and it’s amazing what Coach Hamilton has done over the years. And Coach Bahe had another great team that won state in ‘97.”
Small piece of the puzzle or not, the ‘94 state baseball championship team was definitely a master piece contributing to the successful Sun Prairie baseball tradition that exists to this day.