State runner-up trophies are not what Kimberly athletes are used to handling.
That’s why the Papermakers didn’t get much initial satisfaction from receiving the WIAA’s consolation prize late Thursday evening.
But they accepted it without regret.
They knew they had made a remarkable run and had taken their best shot at a two-time defending state champion.
Sun Prairie smashed open a tie game with a three-run sixth inning to win its third consecutive WIAA Division 1 state baseball championship with a 5-2 victory over the Papermakers at Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium.
In stopping a nine-game Kimberly winning streak, the Cardinals outhit the Papermakers 11-5 and saved their biggest hits for their game-breaking sixth inning.
“They were just better than we were,” said Kimberly coach Ryan McGinnis. “Sun Prairie just made more plays than us, made more pitches and got it done. You have to compete in this game and our guys competed. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Kimberly (21-8) seemed to be in good shape in the middle innings, erasing an early 1-0 deficit and taking a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth. An RBI double by Ben Carew followed by Scott Schreiber’s RBI single highlighted a two-run fourth that gave the Papermakers the lead.
Sun Prairie tied the game at 2-2 on Conner Funnell’s RBI single off Kimberly starter Ethan Taggart in the bottom of the fifth. But Kimberly closed the inning with momentum as reliever Griffin Hawley fanned Cardinals cleanup hitter Ryan Curran for the final out to prevent further damage.
However, a Cardinals team that had a fat .342 batting average during the regular season, got to Hawley in the bottom of the sixth. Drew Hamilton, Sun Prairie’s No. 8 hitter, smacked a bases-loaded single to break the tie and Justin Krebs followed with a sacrifice fly following a terrific catch in foul territory by first baseman Schreiber.
Funnell then delivered the dagger, an RBI single to right for his fourth hit of the evening.
“Give credit to Kimberly,” said Funnell. “They battled and hit the ball pretty well. But (winning pitcher) Ryan Curran settled down and made some big pitches. We knew going into the late innings that we were going to get it done. We’re that kind of team. We’re battled tested and we have a lot of seniors.”
Kimberly put two runners aboard in the bottom of the seventh, but Krebs made a leaping catch of Danny VandenBoom’s line drive and turned it into a game-ending double play.
“I’m proud of these guys,” said Schreiber. “We struggled at the beginning of this season and battled back. And it was kind of the same thing in this game. We just came up on the wrong side.”
Curran, a right-hander, pitched primarily in relief this season for the Cardinals, making just four starts during the regular season and finishing 2-1 with a 2.91 ERA in 27 games. But in the biggest game of the season, Curran cooled off a hot-hitting Kimberly team that had produced 25 runs in its first two tournament games.
“Ryan Curran did a good job of throwing strikes and had a real good curveball,” said Schreiber. “We had guys in scoring position, but just couldn’t get the big hit.”
It was the eighth state championship for Sun Prairie.
“Everyone in a red jersey is hurting right now,” McGinnis said. “But if they can use this in their lives and understand they have to play life one pitch at a time, they’re going to be better dads, better community members and better friends. That’s the whole goal. We’ll measure how successful this team was in about 20 years.”
WP: Ryan Curran. LP: Griffin Hawley. Leading hitters: Conner Funnell SP 4×4, 2 RBI; Michael Marchese SP 2×3; Drew Hamilton SP 2×3.