MARSHALL — The wait is over!
For the first time in 11 years the Sun Prairie Red Birds will play in the Home Talent League Final Four Championship Series, following Sunday’s 7-5 come-from-behind win over the Monona Braves at Marshall Firemen’s Park.
“It means a lot to us,” said winning pitcher Nate Hoffman. “It’s big for the team and the city, there’s a lot of baseball tradition in Sun Prairie.”
Hoffman pitched six strong innings on short rest, literally, after his shift as a Sun Prairie police officer ended at 6 a.m.
“I was a little tired, but I’ve been used to that schedule all summer working third (shift). I get done at 6 a.m. and they’re pretty good about letting me sleep until about an hour before gametime.”
But the hard-throwing right-hander didn’t show any signs of fatigue early, pitching three hitless innings before giving up a single to the Braves’ Kody Parman in the top of the fourth. He would score on Jordan Carlson’s two-out single to left for a 1-0 Monona lead.
After Sun Prairie (19-10 overall, 14-4 Eastern) went ahead 2-1 on RBI’s by Aaron Schmidt (double) and Jaden Wilke (single) in the bottom of the fourth, the Braves plated three runs off Hoffman in the sixth to take a 4-2 advantage. The big hit was a two-run Dan Genrich single to left.
With their season on the line, the Red Birds mounted a monumental rally sending 10 batters to the plate in the bottom half of the sixth.
Walker Jenkins got the scoring starter with a single to score Justin Krebs, who led off the inning with a single, bringing the score to 4-3. But the rally appeared to be coming to an end as Monona reliever Zac Najacht got two-straight outs.
But the Sun Prairie lineup turned over as lead-off batter Carson Holin drew a walk, setting the table for Jack Maastricht. The Eastern Section batting champion didn’t disappoint hitting a ball deep in the hole to allow Schmidt to score the tying run, and on a throwing error Jenkins came racing in for a 5-4 SP lead.
A second Braves error on Kasey Bass’ grounder plated Holin, before Ty Hamilton capped off the rally with an RBI single to left to score Maastricht and give the Red Birds a 7-4 advantage.
“It was a back-and-forth game, but just like in high school we never gave up — that’s what Sun Prairie baseball is all about — keep fighting and keep battling,” Hoffman said.
Monona (12-6) would get just one more run off reliever Taylor Middaugh. Middaugh pitched the final three frames, striking out three, to earn the save.
Hoffman, who struck out 11 DeForest batters in the Eastern Section semifinal, finished with nine Ks and walked only two.
“It’s fun to come back and play with all your high school buddies, we won a state championship together and now get to try for another title.”
Five Red Birds had multiple-hit games including Holin (2x4), Maastricht (2x4), Hamilton (2x4), Krebs (2x4) and Schmidt (2x3).
Rain forced Sunday’s championship game to be moved from Waterloo to Marshall Firemen’s Park. The game also started at 2 p.m., an hour later.
Sun Prairie will play its two home playoff games in Marshall.
THIRD TIME A CHARM
The Red Birds also proved that the third time was a charm, after losing games of 11-0 and 10-4 to Monona during the regular season.
Sun Prairie will host the first two rounds of the round-robin series. Their first meeting will be on Sunday, Aug. 25 against the Southeast Section champion Evansville Jays.
Games to follow: Sun Prairie versus Sauk Prairie on Sunday, Sept. 1, and Sun Prairie at Verona on Sunday, Sept. 8.
The team with the best record will be crowed the 2019 HTL Grand Champion.
Sun Prairie has won a total of 13 HTL championships, its last coming in 2005.
RED BIRDS 7, BRAVES 5
Monona 000 103 010 — 5 8 3
Sun Prairie 000 205 00x — 7 12 1
Monona (ab-r-h-rbi) — Parman 4-2-2-0, T. Carlson 4-0-0-0, Schmitz 3-1-0-0, J. Carlson 4-1-2-1, Seelow 3-1-1-0, Genrich 4-0-3-3, M. Goff 4-0-0-0, M. Willey 3-0-0-0, Switalla 3-0-0-0, Swanson 0-0-0-0, Najacht 0-0-0-0, C. Schmidt 0-0-0-0. Totals — 32-4-8-2.
Sun Prairie (ab-r-h-rbi) — Holin 4-1-2-0, Maastricht 4-1-2-1, Bass 5-0-0-0, Hamilton 4-0-2-1, Krebs 4-2-2-0, A. Schmidt 3-2-2-1, Jenkins 4-1-1-1, Wilke 4-0-1-1, Suchomel 4-0-0-0, Hoffman 0-0-0-0, Middaugh 0-0-0-0. Totals — 36-7-12-5.
2B — Parman, Seelow; A. Schmidt. 3B — Genrich.
Pitching HO — Swanson 7 in 4, Najacht 4 in 1 2/3, C. Schmidt 1 in 2 1/3; Hoffman 6 in 6, Middaugh 2 in 3. ER — Swanson 2, Najacht 3, C. Schmidt 0; Hoffman 3, Middaugh 1. SO — Swanson 1, Najacht 1, C. Schmidt 3; Hoffman 9, Middaugh 3. BB — Swanson 0, Najacht 2, C. Schmidt 0; Hoffman 2, Middaugh 1.
W — Hoffman. L — Najacht. S — Middaugh.