The Evansville Jays entered the Home Talent League Final Four Championship Series riding a six-game winning streak as one of the hottest teams in the area. But in their opening game Sunday against Sun Prairie, the Jays lost some of that late-season mojo.
“We looked a little flat today,” said Evansville manager Jon Frey. “We didn’t look like ourselves the last six weeks. We had some uncharacteristic plays that didn’t look like us before, and Sun Prairie took advantage of it.”
The Eastern Section champion Red Birds (15-4) used a pair of big innings to pull away winning the first of three round-robin series games 9-4 at Marshall Firemen’s Park.
It was the bottom of the order, J.P. Suchomel in particular, that produced in those big innings. Sun Prairie’s No. 9 batter keyed a four-run second inning with a two-run double, then add a clutch two-out single that scored another pair in the three-run fifth that gave the Red Birds a 7-2 advantage.
“They’re a well-hitting team. The bottom of their order hit well; their nine batter had three or four RBIs, even their starting pitcher (Nate Hoffman) had a few hits—he did it on the mound and at the plate,” Frey said.
Evansville (12-7, 0-1), the Southeast Section champion, drew first blood in the top of the second inning. Hunter Martindale hit a lead-off single to right, was sacrificed to second by Brent Cashore and scored on Tyler Aasen’s single.
Sun Prairie would answer, sending all nine of its batters to the plate in the bottom of the frame. The first three batters—Aaron Schmidt, Tony Butler and Hoffman—reached before Jays starter Austin Andrews got designated hitter Jaden Wilke to hit into an infield fly. But Suchomel turned an Andrews fastball inside out, doubling to right field to score the tying and go-ahead runs.
Two more Red Birds would score, one on an error and another on Jack Maastricht’s RBI fielder’s choice, pushing the lead to 4-1.
Sun Prairie would not trail again.
Andrews last started on the Fourth of July against Jefferson, but Frey explained why he went with the Beloit Turner High graduate.
“We’re looking big picture,” said Frey about the decision to start Andrews. “He hasn’t been around much, he’s had other commitments on weekends, so when he’s available, we’ll take him. Brent (Cashore) and Jameson (Lavery) have been putting in a lot of innings recently, so we needed to give them a break.”
Andrews threw all eight innings, striking out four while issuing eight walks and eight earned runs. He threw 152 pitches.
Evansville cut its deficit to 4-2 in the third, when Nolan Strzok singled and scored on a wild pitch, but the Jays would not get any closer as Sun Prairie plated three more runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Hoffman earned the win for Sun Prairie. The right-hander scattered six hits, struck out seven and walked just two before giving way to Taylor Middaugh, who finished up.
Evansville dropped to 0-4 all-time in HTL Final Four play. On Sunday, Frey and his team will be looking for that first win when they travel to Verona. The Cavaliers also lost their opening-round game, 8-6 in 10 innings to Sauk Prairie.
SUN PRAIRIE 9, EVANSVILLE 4
Evansville 011 000 101—6 4 2
Sun Prairie 040 300 11x—9 8 0
Andrews; Hoffman (7), Middaugh
Leading hitters—Butler (SP) 2x4, Hoffman (SP) 2x2, Suchomel (SP) 2x4. 2B—Butler, Suchomel.
SO—Andrews 4; Hoffman 7, Middaugh 4. BB—Andrews 8; Hoffman 2, Middaugh 1.