Sun Prairie baseball falls short in Rob Hamilton’s final game as Cardinals’ coach | High school baseball

GRAND CHUTE — For the final time, Sun Prairie baseball coach Rob Hamilton made the walk from the third-base dugout at Fox Cities Stadium to the grassy hill outside the fence in the left-field corner.

There, Hamilton addressed his team after Tuesday’s WIAA Division 1 state tournament quarterfinal against Bay Port.

Hamilton and the top-seeded Cardinals hadn’t expected to have a season-ending conversation this soon in the tournament.

But that was the reality after eighth-seeded Bay Port erased an early one-run deficit, warded off a late Cardinals’ comeback bid and claimed a 4-2 victory over defending Division 1 champion Sun Prairie.

“I’m proud of our team,” said Sun Prairie senior Davis Hamilton, the coach’s son. “But it really hurts.”

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With the result, Rob Hamilton, who said earlier this spring that he was stepping down after the season, saw his storied Cardinals’ coaching career come to an end.

“It feels like every other year,” Hamilton said. “You are just pulling so hard for these kids because you know how hard they work and how hard they want it. That was all. It was like last year when we were here. It was no different. Just see what we can do to try to beat the team we are playing and move on, and that was it.

“It’s certainly not about me. I just feel like we lost, to be honest with you. It really doesn’t feel any different than any other time we came here and didn’t come back with three wins. I just feel empty for these kids. I just wish we could have done more.

Hamilton was with the Sun Prairie program for 30 years (including as an assistant), taking over as head coach in 2001. He compiled a 433-112 record. The Cardinals, who have a WIAA record nine state titles, won six championships under Hamilton’s direction.

“They were some of the best years of my life,” Davis Hamilton said about playing for his father.

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Said Sun Prairie senior first baseman Addison Ostrenga: “He’s the best baseball coach I’ve ever had.”

The bats were generally quiet for the Big Eight Conference champion Cardinals (26-4), who were limited to five hits and to a run total matching their single-game low this season.

“I feel like we normally start getting hot in the late innings when we are down,” Ostrenga said. “Today, we couldn’t get it going.”

Sun Prairie junior right fielder Jackson Hunley had three hits.

“It’s the million-dollar question, Why?” Rob Hamilton said. “It’s baseball. And sometimes it gets taken for granted for Sun Prairie baseball to get here. But baseball is hard to win games. And today was a perfect example of that, where we had some chances and we kind of let them off the hook a couple times and we just couldn’t get that big hit to really get that mojo back in our dugout.

“Credit to them. They made the plays. They made us earn it. They didn’t give us anything and we just couldn’t get that big hit.”

Sun Prairie, trailing 4-1, threatened in the bottom of the seventh inning, loading the bases with two outs. Hunley, who had singled, scored on a wild pitch, cutting the deficit to 4-2.

But Ostrenga, with runners at second and third, struck out after fouling off four consecutive pitches with a 1-2 count.

“We had our guy that we wanted up at the plate,” Rob Hamilton said about Ostrenga, who entered the game averaging a team-leading .458. “Addison has been awesome all year for us. It just wasn’t meant to be for us.”

Ostrenga, a University of Iowa commit for football, said: “I felt ready for the pitches. My hands were extremely sweaty (from the heat and high humidity). …I was just trying to stay calm.”

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The game marked a rematch of last year’s state title game — won by Sun Prairie 11-2.

The Cardinals grabbed a 1-0 lead, manufacturing a run in the bottom of the first inning. Hunley, who led off with an infield hit, wound up stealing home when the Cardinals, who had the bases loaded, put runners in motion to draw a throw.

The Pirates (20-9) tied the game in the second inning on junior third baseman Connor LaBar’s run-scoring double down the third-base line and into the left-field corner. Two Sun Prairie errors aided Bay Port in the inning.

The Pirates scored twice in the third, seizing a 3-1 lead.

Senior center fielder John Nickel, who led off with a single, wound up scoring on a double steal. Junior starting pitcher Cole Bensen, who gave up one run on four hits in 6⅓ innings, helped himself at the plate, knocking in the team’s third run with a single.

Bay Port tackled on another run in the sixth on Nickel’s two-out, bases-loaded, RBI single.

Davis Hamilton, a North Dakota State commit for baseball, allowed four runs — three earned — and seven hits in six innings. He relied on his fastball, saying his curveball wasn’t as sharp as usual.

“I felt like I made a couple of bad pitches,” he said. “They took advantage of it and they got a few runs when they needed them with a few timely hits.”

Said Rob Hamilton: “He pitched well, but not well enough to win.”

The Cardinals remained without injured sophomore outfielder Sam Ostrenga, a .350 hitter who’s Addison Ostrenga’s brother. Sam Ostrenga broke his right tibia near the ankle when he was playing cornhole at his brother’s recent graduation party and landed awkwardly on the cornhole board after being thrown a football, Rob Hamilton said.

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Bay Port advanced to a semifinal against fifth-seeded Menomonee Falls on Tuesday night.

Menomonee Falls defeated fourth-seeded Salem Westosha Central 6-1 in the day’s first game. Phoenix starting pitcher Zach Wolfram allowed no runs on four hits in six innings and drove in two runs with hits, including a double.

Sun Prairie made its 17th state trip, the second-most state tournament appearances.

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The Cardinals qualified for the third consecutive time in the years the tournament was held (it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

“No one expected us to get this far,” the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Addison Ostrenga said. “The way we battled all year, I’m just really proud of our team. It felt like we were underdogs (this season). But after the beginning of the year we turned the tables and we showed we were back.”


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