GRAND CHUTE — It started with so much promise for a savvy group of kids who had designs of winning a state championship.
Trey Krause pitched a brilliant game in a 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Green Bay Preble Tuesday morning at Fox Cities Stadium. And the Burlington High School baseball team scratched out three unearned runs with two outs against a pitcher who has earned a scholarship to the Clemson University.
There was every reason to believe the Demons were on their way to the program’s second state championship in four seasons. Longtime coach Scott Staude didn’t hesitate to say that was his expectation.
But the good vibrations quickly leveled off. And after a 6-1 loss to Sun Prairie Tuesday night against Sun Prairie, which has won eight championships since 1974, the Demons’ season is suddenly over.
And players on this 24-6 team were understandably having difficulty coming to terms with the abrupt demise to their season.
“We were coming off a big win this morning and we were really confident,” senior third baseman Tucker Strommen said, “Sometimes the ball doesn’t fly your way and it sucks, but that’s baseball.”
Krause, an Illinois State recruit who is the reigning All-Racine County Player of the Year, also was having difficult comprehending the reality that there are no more tomorrows.
“It just sucks,” he said. “We started hot with high emotions and then we couldn’t get base hits, And then they came through in the clutch and it was just a snowball effect from there.
“It’s not how I wanted it to end, but it happens, you know?”
Making this loss all the more difficult is the circumstances. After pitching his ace, Noah Wendler, in a 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Oak Creek Tuesday morning, Sun Prairie coach Rob Hamilton went with Robbie Knorr against Burlington.
It was the first start of the season for the senior right-hander, who had an 0-2 record and a 1.23 earned run average in 17 innings. But with the help of three double plays, Knorr produced a 95-pitch masterpiece, during which he allowed seven singles.
“He challenged you all the time,” Strommen said. “He made you beat him and, tonight, he was just better. His defense made plays for him and he really just challenged you at the plate.”
Meanwhile, Trent Turzenski, the other half of Burlington twin pitching punch, wasn’t at his best in his final high school pitching performance. The big right-hander allowed five earned runs and had to leave in the fourth inning when he reached his 100-pitch limit.
Turzenski, who entered the game with a 5-2 record and a 1.45 ERA, struck out seven, but walked three, hit a batter and was charged with three wild pitches, Sun Prairie stranded 10 base runners between Turzenski and reliever Kale Dietz, who would have started the championship game had Burlington advanced that far.
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“Some stuff just didn’t go my way,” Turzenski said. “They got hits when they needed them. That was a good job by Sun Prairie. They got some big hits with guys on base.
“I don’t know what to say. Coming into the game, I thought I had good stuff warming up in the bullpen and I thought I continued that in the game. I don’t know.”
Afterward, Staude credited Turzenski for battling and keeping Burlington in the game as much as he could even though he had difficulty controlling his curveball and changeup.
“He wasn’t as crisp as he was in the sectional final (when Turzenski pitched a two-hitter in a 2-0 victory over Kenosha Tremper), but we didn’t help him out,” Staude said. “We had a couple of dropped balls and borderline pitches that didn’t go our way.
“I’ll take Trent on day two any day. He’s been really good all year. Things got away a little, but he did and amazing job just to keep us there.”
Just as the day started on a promising note for the Demons, so did the game against Sun Prairie.
Dietz, batting leadoff, worked Knorr for 11 pitches before striking out swinging. But then Krause, Jason Adams and Turzenski followed with consecutive hits to load the bases.
That brought up Strommen with a chance to give Burlington an early big lead and possibly end Knorr’s day. But he grounded to shortstop Carson Fluno, who started the first of the Cardinals’ three double plays in the game.
“It was a fastball and I was just looking for something over the plate,” Strommen said. “I swung hard and it just happened to go right at him and he turned a double play.”
Said Staude: “He lines a one-hopper to the shortstop, who turns a double play. Five feet either way and it’s a base hit and we’re up 2-0. Maybe it’s a different outcome then. But that’s the way it goes.”
The Demons were held to just four more hits the rest of the game. And Sun Prairie scored three runs in the first inning and two in the second to take control of the game and put Knorr into a comfort zone.
The Cardinals only had two hits in their big first inning, but took advantage of three wild pitches and two walks. In the second inning, a Texas Leaguer just inside the right-field line by Josh Caron scored two runs and gave Sun Prairie (24-7) a 5-0 lead.
“I thought we had a great chance to win this tournament and I’ll still take my guys any day,” Staude said. “It’s disappointing. You never want the end to come. The end is not fun.
“But we’ll sit back and reflect on what a great year it was. We were in the final four and it’s been good, really good. We had a great group of seniors.”