Bay Port falls in state title game
By Greg Bates
GRAND CHUTE – With his eyes swollen from tears, Eli Frank lingered outside the Bay Port dugout.
The senior gazed into the outfield and slowly panned Fox Cities Stadium; he took in the scene one last time.
His high school baseball career was over.
Frank said he was sad it came to an end and a little disappointed he and his teammates lost the last game of the season, but the Bay Port players and coaches were thrilled to be taking home the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 state baseball runner-up trophy.
No. 1-ranked Sun Prairie broke open a scoreless game in the fifth inning with five runs and tacked on six more runs the next inning en route to an 11-2 victory over No. 2-ranked Bay Port Thursday, July 1, at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.
Bay Port, making its first state appearance since 2015, lost to Sun Prairie in the 2012 state title game.
This year’s state championship game victory gave Sun Prairie its state-record ninth title.
Bay Port coach Harvey Knutson said he was proud of his players to be able to advance to the title game to cap off a great season.
“Just to get here to be at this game and play the way they have all season long,” Knutson said. “This was quite a game, but we take away maybe one inning here and if we took advantage of some opportunities we had, maybe a little different outcome. But I couldn’t be prouder of these guys to get to where they got, to be at this championship game. It may not have ended the way we hoped, but I told the boys I was proud of them and nothing to hang their head about.”
Frank echoed the same sentiment as his coach.
“A miracle being able to play baseball given how last year went and being able to be out on the field again with my brothers,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Bay Port (26-2) knocked off Eau Claire Memorial 8-1 in the semifinals to earn its battle against Sun Prairie (29-2) in the championship game.
Bay Port had a prime opportunity to score in the second inning.
Logan Vanlaanen started things with a single and Kyle Burkland came in to courtesy run.
James Bornick hit a one-out single to right to make it first and second.
Gavin Rusch hit a ground ball that was bobbled by the shortstop.
Burkland rounded third and was thrown out trying to get back to the base for the second out.
With runners on first and second, John Nickel singled to right.
Lead runner Bornick was held at third base, but Rusch raced almost all the way to third before realizing his teammate was already occupying the base.
He was tagged out by the third baseman to end the inning.
“It definitely cost us,” Bay Port junior Theo Zeidler said. “We’d like to get that one back, but it is what it is.”
The Pirates threatened again in the fifth.
They had first and second and two outs, but Jacob Kleemann struck out to end the inning.
In the bottom half of the inning, Sun Prairie had two on and two out when Davis Hamilton stroked a single to plate pinch-runner Ethan Stauff for the game’s first run.
Nebraska commit Josh Caron laced a two-RBI triple over the centerfielder’s head to make it 3-0.
Bay Port starter Gavin Rusch, who allowed four runs on five hits, was replaced by Carl Cano.
Sun Prairie had three walks and a hit by pitch as two more runs came across.
“With good teams, you can’t make any mistakes,” Zeidler said. “We knew at some point they were going to start hitting us, and they’re a really good team. They took advantage of our mistakes and kept on going.”
Knutson said he can’t imagine how the game would have turned out if his team could have retired the third batter in the fifth.
“That would have been huge and some momentum,” Knutson said.
Down 5-0, Bay Port had a two-out rally of its own in the sixth.
Vanlaanen walked, Frank singled and both moved up a base on a wild pitch.
With two runners in scoring position, Bornick stroked a two-RBI single to center field.
Sun Prairie didn’t waste any time getting the two runs back plus adding four more in the sixth.
Durlin Radlund had a two-run single.
The Cardinals brought 10 runners to the plate to take a commanding 11-2 lead.
Giving up two big innings in one game isn’t customary for the Bay Port program.
“It usually doesn’t happen, but hats off to Sun Prairie,” Frank said. “They’re an incredible baseball team. They have a lot of good players, we had a couple of bad innings and they took advantage of our mistakes. That’s baseball.”
Bay Port finished the game with seven hits, two by Bornick.
Following the game, a teary-eyed Frank talked about the bond he and his teammates have with each other.
“They’re my family,” he said. “I’ve spent 12 years or more playing baseball with them, working out with them, training with them and going through a lot of things in our personal lives together. They really are my brothers.”
The senior class was an accomplished group as well as a large group.
The 15 guys – eight of whom were starters – put on their Bay Port jerseys one last time.
“They’re a tight-knit group,” Zeidler said. “They taught me so much about baseball and about being a man. It’s tough to say goodbye.”
Knutson was also emotional after the loss.
“It’s always the hardest part, the last game of the season, whether it’s the state tournament you win or lose, whether it’s a regional game and your season ends,” he said. “The hardest part for me is saying goodbye to some seniors. We have a lot every year. I don’t know if we’ve ever had 15 seniors on a team like this year. They’re amazing kids, and they deserve everything they’ve accomplished to this point. I wish they could have won this last game for them, but it is the toughest part saying goodbye to them.”