Parker falls to Sun Prairie in semifinal game
GRAND CHUTE--Zach Bailey's uniform showed the wear and tear of an eight-round battle between the two best baseball teams in Wisconsin's best Division 1 conference.
The dirt streaking from the Janesville Parker shortstop's chest to his knees also told the story of Sun Prairie's latest late-inning heroics at the WIAA Division 1 state baseball tournament.
Cardinals left fielder Michael Marchese flared a single up the middle past the diving Bailey to plate pinch runner Justus Benson and give Sun Prairie an 8-7 walkoff win in eight innings in at Fox Cities Stadium on Tuesday night.
Sun Prairie, which won the Big Eight Conference championship by beating second-place Parker 4-3 with a seventh-inning rally in the final game of the regular season, won the rubber match in a state semifinal game and will play for a third consecutive D1 title Thursday.
“We just asked for a chance, and we had a chance,” Parker coach Brian Martin said. “We didn't quite cash in when we had to.
“Until somebody beats them, they're the two-time defending state champs. And they made a state-championship play.”
After trading clutch hits and errors in the field throughout the night, Sun Prairie rallied when Drew Hamilton reached on Parker's fourth error of the night. He was replaced by Benson, who moved to second on Conner Funnell's single and to third when the Vikings couldn't turn a double play to end the inning.
Marchese, without a hit in his first four at-bats, lined the first pitch he saw into center field.
“You can never count out Sun Prairie,” Bailey said. “They hit the ball better than just about anybody in the state. I knew as soon as we got up that they were going to come back.”
Sun Prairie fell behind right away in the first inning but rallied in its half to go up 2-1.
Parker tied the game in the second on Cullen Osmond's double and then grabbed a three-run lead in the third when brother Connor Osmond blasted a two-run home run over the tall left-field wall.
The Vikings never trailed again until the final pitch of the game, yet the Cardinals seemed to have an answer at every turn.
They tied it, 5-5, in the fourth inning despite seeing their first two hitters ground out. Second baseman Coby Oswalt hit a double to left field, and Sun Prairie followed with two more hits and two walks.
“I kind of figured that however this game's going to go, either team is going to have to work for and really make sure that they play for 21—and it ended up being 24—outs,” Martin said.
The teams played a game of give-and-take in the fifth. Parker took a 7-5 lead with two runs that came despite never notching a single hit. But they gave both runs right back on two walks, an error and a wild pitch.
“All three of the games we played were like this,” Martin said. “I don't think it was any accident there were three Big Eight teams here. There are going to be some people talking about this game for a while.
“And that's what this team is. We're going to go and fight … until the umpires tell us we're done. That's the way this team has been all season.”
One year after winning seven total games, the Vikings wore the evidence of that battle right down to the final out of a state semifinal game.
Follow along below with Gazette sports staffers Eric Schmoldt and John Barry as they live tweet the game.