GRAND CHUTE — A lucky bounce and a perfectly-timed hidden ball trick proved to be key plays in the Sun Prairie baseball team’s 3-2 win over Oak Creek in the WIAA Division 1 State Baseball Tournament quarterfinal game, played earlier today at Fox Cities Stadium.
Clinging to a 3-2 lead and Oak Creek with runners on first and second late in the game, the Cardinals dug deep into their bag of tricks and pulled off the play of the game.
Following a discussion on the mound with head coach Rob Hamilton, junior pitcher Carson Fluno, along with a terrific acting performances by senior first baseman Benett Halbleib, faked a throw to first and as everybody scrambled threw to shortstop Robbie Knorr who tagged out an unassuming Austin Scoville.
“I think it might have been the first time we tried it this year,” said Hamilton. “It’s always been in our duffle bag, but a lot of times the situation just doesn’t call for it. I felt there was no better time than when we did it.”
The Cardinals, making their 15th appearance which is tied for the second-most in state history, took the lead for good in the sixth inning thanks to a big hit and a lucky bounce. Spencer Bartel led the inning off with a triple, his team-leading ninth of the season.
“After hitting two balls up the middle hard there’s really nothing else you can do than try to hit another ball hard,” said Bartel.
Added Hamilton: “Lead-off triples are always nice in a close game late. I had a feeling we’d be able to push him across with our hitters we had coming up.”
Then came the lucky bounce. After Josh Caron walked, he was replaced by pinch runner Brady Stevens. The speedy sophomore was given the steal sign and while he was sliding into second catcher Colin Kalinowski’s throw glanced off his helmet, allowing Bartel to score what would prove to be the winning run.
“That’s kind of what happens in these close games, little things are going to determine it,” said Hamilton. “We’re just fortunate to come out of there with a win.”
Fluno relieved starter Noah Wendler in the fourth with the game tied 2-2. The junior right-hander pitched into, and out of jams in both the fifth and sixth innings.
The latter was the trick play.
The only discussion was what pitch to do it on. But after consulting with his players, and when the Knights (21-7) put in not one, but two pinch runners, it was determined that the fake play would occur on the first pitch.
“As a pitcher I have to make sure I step off and fake a good throw to first, and then the first baseman has to slide and everyone (else) selling it. After that it’s just throwing him out,” he said. “It helped me got out of that inning.”
“The kids executed it great,” Hamilton added. “It was a big out.”
Fluno earned the win, just his second of the season, striking out six while allowing just two hits in four innings.
Sun Prairie is now two wins away from its ninth state championship.
“I think we always knew we could get (here), there were a lot of learning curves. Now we’re over the learning curves and we’re playing the best baseball we can play,” Bartel said.
Fluno admitted he didn’t think he’d pitch the first game, maybe making the start in the second game, but he also didn’t know if he’d be playing at all a little over a month ago.
It was on April 22nd when Fluno didn’t feel well, and ended up at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison where he underwent an emergency appendectomy.
“I’m 100 percent now,” he said.
SUN PRAIRIE 3, OAK CREEK 2
Sun Prairie 101 001 0 — 3 7 3
Oak Creek 020 000 0 — 2 7 1
Sun Prairie (ab-r-h-rbi) — Shepard 4-2-3-0, Moreno 2-0-1-0, Bartel 3-1-1-1, Caron 1-0-0-1, Stevens 0-0-0-0, DePrey 3-0-0-0, Knorr 2-0-1-0, Halbleib 1-0-0-0, Schmitz 1-0-0-0, Wendler 2-0-0-0, Fluno 1-0-0-0, Powley 3-0-1-0, Urban 0-0-0-0. Totals — 23-3-7-2.
Oak Creek (ab-r-h-rbi) — Doyle 3-0-2-1, Peterson 3-0-1-0, Kalinowski 4-0-1-0, Scoville 0-0-0-0, Zakula 3-0-1-0, Johnstone 3-0-1-0, Paar 3-0-0-0, Sagan 0-0-0-0, Rybarik 0-0-0-0, Duchniak 2-1-0-0, Brahm 2-1-1-1, Len, Lenczner 3-0-0-0, Pisca 0-0-0-0, Engelbrecht 0-0-0-0. Totals — 26-2-7-2.
2B — Shepard; Doyle, Johnstone, Brehm. 3B — Bartel.
Pitching HO — Wendler 5 in 3, Fluno 2 in 4; Pisca 6 in 5, Engelbrecht 1 in 2. ER — Wendler 2, Fluno 0; Pisca 3, Engelbrecht 0. SO — Wendler 1, Fluno 6; Pisca 1, Engelbrecht 3. BB — Wendler 1, Fluno 0; Pisca 3, Engelbrecht 0.
W — Fluno (2-1). L — Pisca (3-3).