SUN PRAIRIE — In postgame remarks to his team, Sun Prairie baseball coach Rob Hamilton said “perseverance” was the word of the day on a windy Saturday.
It certainly was an apt choice.
Without perseverance against Big Eight Conference leader Janesville Craig — along with timely hitting and strong defense — the Cardinals’ chances to stay in the chase for the league crown would have diminished considerably.
Instead, Sun Prairie earned a come-from-behind 7-6 victory in eight innings over the Cougars — ranked No. 1 in Division 1 in the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association state poll.
“It was a great team win,” Hamilton said. “If we lose this one, it’s over. We still have an uphill battle.
“But all we can control is what we can control, and that is our dugout. And (we have to) keep putting the pressure on these guys over there. We have to take care of our business, because there were a couple of times when we haven’t.”
Senior infielder J.P. Suchomel, stepping to the plate with the bases loaded and none out in the eighth, delivered a sacrifice fly to right field that brought home the winning run as the fifth-ranked Cardinals (13-4 overall, 9-3 Big Eight) narrowed the gap behind the Cougars (13-2, 9-2).
“We could have had a three-game cushion,” Craig coach Victor Herbst said. “It tightens up the race. It’s our job to go out and play good baseball. And if we do, we are in good shape.”
The Cardinals overcame a 6-2 deficit, scoring four times in the third in response to the Cougars’ five-run outburst in the top of the inning.
Sun Prairie junior center fielder Carson Holin, who had three hits, beat out a grounder to short leading off the eighth, and then freshman Joe Hauser was hit by a pitch while attempting a sacrifice bunt. The next batter, senior Walker Jenkins, bunted safely down the third-base line.
That loaded the bases for Suchomel against Cougars ace reliever Jack Blomgren, the University of Michigan commit who started the game at shortstop.
“I was just trying to hit the ball in the outfield and I knew good things would happen — and we won the ballgame,” Suchomel said. “I really wanted to be that person (coming to bat in that situation). I got the job done.”
Hamilton, who called Suchomel the team’s “Swiss Army knife” because of his ability to play multiple positions, liked Suchomel’s approach during that at-bat.
“I … said to make sure it is something you can hit hard,” Hamilton said. “He was not nervous or looking for a walk. He goes and gets that pitch and wins it.”
Blomgren took the mound in the third after the Cardinals got to starter Evan Spry during their four-run uprising. He and Jenkins, who held the Cougars scoreless after entering in the fourth, helped to slow the offensive fireworks that saw the game tied 6-6 after three innings.
“Watching Jack and Walker go at each other on the mound to keep both teams in it, it doesn’t get much better for a high school atmosphere than that,” said Herbst, whose team defeated Sun Prairie 9-8 in the teams’ first meeting. “Our kids competed. We didn’t beat ourselves. We came up on the short end against a good team.”
After the Cougars’ five-run third resulted in a 6-2 lead, the Cardinals fought back. Senior designated hitter Ben Hauser, a U.S. Air Force Academy commit for baseball, and junior catcher Ty Hamilton singled. Then, junior Luke DePrey’s bloop to left in the windy conditions wasn’t handled by Blomgren, who was charged with an error.
With two out, Holin singled in two runs, cutting the Cardinals’ deficit to 6-4. Joe Hauser then tripled to the left-center fence, driving in two more runs for a 6-6 tie and ending Spry’s outing.
The Cardinals scored two runs after two were out in the first. Ben Hauser crushed a solo home run to right field in the bottom of the first, tying the game at 1-1.
“Wow, holy smokes, did he hit that thing,” Rob Hamilton said. “That is as hard a hit ball as you will see on the high school level. He was locked in.”
DePrey hit a 2-2 pitch for a single to center, giving Sun Prairie a 2-1 lead in the first.
Janesville Craig 105 000 00 — 6 9 1
Sun Prairie 204 000 01 — 7 13 0
Pitchers (ip-h-er-bb-so) — JC: Spry (2.2-8-2-1-1), Blomgren (L; 4.2-5-1-1-4); SP: Jansen (2.2-6-6-2-2), Middaugh (0.1-0-0-2-0), Jenkins (W; 5-3-0-1-3).
Leading hitters — JC: Spry 2×3; SP: Jenkins 2×4, B. Hauser 2×4, Hamilton 2×3, Holin 3×4. 2B — Holin (SP). 3B — J. Hauser (SP). HR — B. Hauser (SP).