GRAND CHUTE — All the Sun Prairie baseball team could do was watch as Sam Stange’s three-run home run sailed over the wall, giving Eau Claire North a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning.
The gut-punch led to a 5-4 Cardinal loss in the WIAA Division 1 state championship game Thursday night at Fox Cities Stadium.
“We could’ve put him on but the tying run on second was our worry,” said Sun Prairie head coach Rob Hamilton, who in his previous at bat did intentionally walked Stange. “Obviously, I wish we would have.”
Named the state Player of the Year by the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association earlier in the day, Stange got all of Logan Lange’s 1-1 offering, hitting it onto a chalet beyond the right field wall.
“I feel bad for all of them, it was a gut-wrenching loss,” Hamilton said. “They don’t get much tougher.”
Sun Prairie (24-8) had trailed the whole game until a three-run sixth gave them a 4-2 advantage.
Matt DePrey started the Sun Prairie rally drawing a lead-off walk. He was replaced by courtesy runner Brady Stevens. After Robbie Knorr sacrificed Stevens into scoring position, he moved to third on Benett Halbleib’s groundout to second and was 90 feet away from tying the game.
Junior Alec Schmitz was then called on to pinch hit and after falling behind in the count, hit a chopper to short which Carter Hesselman threw away allowing Stevens to score tying the game a 2-2.
Another error, this time on Jacob Powley’s grounder to third baseman Gabriel Richardson, put Cardinals on first and third, and Powley stole second to set the table for lead-off hitter Carson Shepard.
Already with four hits in the state tournament, the sophomore second baseman got enough of a Joel Zachow offering hitting it over left fielder Keegan Dehnke’s head for a two-run double and 4-2 Sun Prairie lead.
“I knew I was going to get something to hit,” said Shepard. “I got enough of it to get over his head.”
Shepard finished as Sun Prairie’s leading hitter in the tourney batting .500 (5-for-10).
While he was happy his team had taken the lead, Hamilton, coaching in his 12th state championship game, knew there still was plenty of baseball to be played.
“I knew we still had six out to get,” he said. “I didn’t think it was our game, we still had to battle against some really good hitters.”
Lange retired the first two Huskies in the bottom of the sixth, but then gave up a single to lead-off batter Gabe O’Brien and walked Hesselman, bringing Stange to the plate.
The senior, batting .522 coming into the WIAA tournament, barreled-up on Lange’s pitch hitting it high into the twilight sky and well over the Fox Cities Stadium fence for his sixth home run of the season.
“Logan Lange pitched his heart out,” said Hamilton. “This game wouldn’t have come down to this if Logan Lange wasn’t who he was. He was awesome.”
Not only was Stange named the state’s top baseball player, he was also the state Player of the Year in hockey and will play for the University of Wisconsin.
“He’s a really good hitter,” Hamilton said.
The state championship was the second for Eau Claire North (25-4).
The state championship appearance was Sun Prairie’s 10th. The Cardinals are 8-2 in those title games.
“Starting out 4-5 and being one of the last teams standing is quite an accomplishment. I don’t know what you can say to them at this point right now that’s going to make them feel better, but they do have a lot to be proud of,” said Hamilton.
EAU CLAIRE NORTH 5, SUN PRAIRIE 4
Sun Prairie 001 003 0 — 4 4 2
Eau Claire North 020 003 x — 5 8 4
Sun Prairie (ab-r-h-rbi) — Shepard 3-1-2-2, Moreno 3-0-0-0, Bartel 4-0-1-1, Caron 4-0-0-0, DePrey 3-0-1-0, Radlund 0-0-0-0, Stevens 0-1-0-0, Knorr 2-0-0-0, Halbleib 3-0-0-0, Ostrenga 0-0-0-0, Wendler 2-0-0-0, Schmitz 1-1-0-1, Powley 3-1-0-0, Urban 0-0-0-0, Lange 0-0-0-0. Totals — 28-4-4-4.
Eau Claire North (ab-r-h-rbi) — O’Brien 4-1-2-0, Hesselman 2-0-1-0, Johnson 0-1-0-0, Stange 3-1-1-3, Pogodzinski 4-0-0-0, Fadness 3-0-1-0, Zachow 2-1-0-0, Feck 3-0-1-2, Vance 0-0-0-0, Dehnke 3-0-2-0, Goetsch 0-0-0-0, Kulig 0-0-0-0. Totals — 26-5-8-5.
2B — Shepard; Feck, Dehnke. HR — Stange.
Pitching HO — Wendler 4 in 1 1/3, Lange 4 in 4 2/3; Goetsch 3 in 5 2/3, Zachow 1 in 1 1/3. ER — Wendler 2, Lange 3; Goetsch 1, Zachow 0. SO — Wendler 0, Lange 6; Goetsch 3, Zachow 1. BB — Wendler 1, Lange 4; Goetsch 2, Zachow 0.
W — Zachow (2-0). L — Lange (4-2).