Bay Port baseball downs top-seeded Sun Prairie at state tournament
By Rich Palzewic
GRAND CHUTE – As they’ve done all postseason, the Bay Port baseball team didn’t focus on being the underdogs.
You can now add Sun Prairie and Menomonee Falls to that list.
Bay Port beat Sun Prairie 4-2 in the state quarterfinals before bettering Menomonee Falls later in the evening, 4-3.
The state tournament wins came Tuesday, June 14, at Fox Cities Stadium, the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, in Grand Chute.
With the two victories, the Pirates will play for the WIAA Division 1 state title at 6 p.m. against Milton (23-7) Thursday, June 16.
Behind strong pitching, clutch hitting and solid defense, Bay Port downed the Cardinals Tuesday, June 14, 4-2.
The state quarterfinal game was played at Fox Cities Stadium, the home of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, in Grand Chute.
“Yes, they’ve done this all season,” Bay Port Head Coach Harvey Knutson said. “They’ve never given up and stopped trying. Nothing surprises me with these boys. We were a seven seed in the sectional and an eight seed at state, playing the No. 1 team – we didn’t think about the rankings. We’ve been an underdog in the postseason, and I think teams have looked past us a bit.”
With the victory, the Pirates will now face No. 5-seeded Menomonee Falls in the state semifinals at 5:30 p.m. tonight.
The win by Bay Port, its 10th straight, also avenged a loss to Sun Prairie, the No. 5-ranked Division 1 team in the state, in last year’s state title game.
“I have lots of respect for (Sun Prairie Head) Coach (Rob) Hamilton,” Knutson said. “You always want a little payback and revenge, so it’s nice to get a win over them after what happened last season.”
Sun Prairie (23-4) broke through for a single run in the bottom of the first inning, but things could have been worse.
Pirates starting pitcher Cole Bensen stranded the bases loaded by ending the inning with a strikeout.
Bay Port tied the game 1-1 in the top of the second inning on an RBI double by Connor LaBar, scoring Grant Gill, who had reached on a two-out error.
The Pirates grabbed a 3-1 lead in the top of the third inning on three hits, highlighted by a double steal of home and an RBI single from Bensen.
Bay Port added a single tally in the sixth inning to jump ahead 4-1 on an RBI single by John Nickel with the bases loaded.
The inning began with the Pirates loading the bases with nobody out before a strikeout and a fly out set up Nickel’s at-bat.
Sun Prairie threatened in the bottom of the seventh inning, loading the bases with two outs, but after relief pitcher Ethan Plog, a sophomore lefty, let a run score on a wild pitch, he struck out cleanup hitter Addison Ostrenga with runners on second and third to end the game.
“We haven’t seen (Plog) sweat, shake, falter or fear anything this season,” Knutson said. “He’s been huge in the playoff run. He got a little shaky there, but we had faith in him.”
After throwing 35 pitches in the first inning, Bensen settled down thereafter, throwing 65 more pitches the rest of the way.
The junior righty allowed only four hits in his 6 1/3 innings of work before giving way to Plog with one out in the seventh after reaching his 100-pitch limit.
“I’m liking this underdog feeling,” Bensen laughed. “It feels good to be the lowest seed and playing like we are.”
Bensen said once he settled in, he felt fine.
“It was a rough start,” he said. “I was fortunate to only give up one run. I kept telling myself to just throw to (catcher) Grant (Gill) and keep fighting. Our fan base has been great, and that helps.”
Knutson went to the mound in the first inning to try and calm down his starter.
“He got dialed in,” Knutson said. “I patted him on the back to give him a breather, and he said, ‘I can’t find the zone.’ I wasn’t worried at that point – he’s a competitor. To get out of that jam, that’s why he’s our ace.”
Nickel and Bensen each had two hits in Bay Port’s seven-hit attack.
After jumping out to a 4-0 lead, the Pirates had to hang on late.
In the first inning, Nickel scored on an error for a 1-0 lead.
In the second inning, Nickel had an RBI double to make it 2-0.
Bay Port added its final two runs of the game in the fourth inning without the aid of a hit.
Menomonee Falls (20-10) committed three more errors in the inning and had six total for the game.
The Phoenix drew to within 4-2 in the fifth inning but left the bases loaded.
Falls added a single tally in the seventh inning but Plog coaxed a fly ball to right field to end the game, leaving two runners stranded.
Nickel had two hits and two RBI, while Brandon Black, Bensen and Charlie Zimmer had the other hits for the Pirates.
Craig Kabat started on the mound for Bay Port and went five innings, giving up four hits and two runs.
The sophomore struck out four and walked two.
Plog pitched the final two innings and gave up two hits, one run and struck out three.
The victory for the Pirates (22-7) was their 11th straight win overall.
Sports editor’s note: Check back Thursday night to see if Bay Port beat Milton and won a state championship.