SHELL LAKE — When describing the team’s next opponent, Thorp baseball’s Ryan Stunkel went to a classic sports cliche Tuesday after his heroic two-run walk-off homer sent his team to the Division 4 sectional final.
“They put their pants on the same way we do.”
But Webster really has been a whole different animal this season. The Tigers are undefeated, and outside a crazy 30-13 game against Hurley, have only given up 15 runs all year. They boast multiple Division I talents, are coached by former Major League Baseball pitcher Jarrod Washburn and have stormed through the playoffs, only giving up one run while scoring 42 in the three games leading up to the sectional final.
In the end, the Cardinals just didn’t have the quick bats to keep up with the speed of pitcher Jack Washburn or the perfect pitching needed to slow the Tiger attack. Webster slowly built its lead over the first four innings and kept the Cardinals hitless to defeat Thorp 14-0 in a game called after five frames. The Tigers will get a chance to defend their state title, this time at a division lower than last year.
“They’re disciplined at the plate and when you show them something they hit it,” Thorp head coach Cory Drost said. “Those are the type of teams that go to state.”
It was a sour followup to what was a dramatic semifinal victory against Spring Valley that ended half an hour earlier. Thorp dug itself into a 6-0 hole in the second inning only to follow up with five of its own in the third. With no scoring in the following three innings, Thorp needed the boost it got from Stunkel in the seventh to earn the 7-6 comeback victory.
“The Western Cloverbelt kind of gears you toward games like this because it’s a juggernaut conference,” Drost said after the first game. “I start four sophomores and a freshman and they’ve gotten so much better at baseball and just that confidence and toughness of the game. That’s kind of what happens when they believe in themselves.”
Webster opened the final with two runs in the first on an error and a fielder’s choice, then started pulling away in the second with four more thanks largely to a Jack Washburn three-run homer. After three runs in the third and five runs in the fourth, the Tigers had the 10-run lead they needed to end the game prematurely.
No batter gave Jack Washburn more run support than the pitcher himself. The Oregon State signee had five RBIs on 2 for 3 hitting with a walk. On the mound, he struck out eight. His only blemishes were his four walks.
“It’s a pretty special group,” said Jarrod Washburn, a Webster native who played for the Angels, Mariners and Tigers. “We’re loaded with talent right now. I’ll never see a team like this again.”
Thorp’s chances of even getting to the final looked dire after Spring Valley’s big second inning. The scoring started with a pair of errors to give Spring Valley a 3-0 lead with one out. Mike Bauer then drove in a run on a line drive single and Connor Ducklow another two on a fly ball that dropped in shallow right field to close out the six-run frame.
Then it was Thorp’s turn to take advantage of miscues. Charlie Hauser scored the first run in the third on a single to center field, but the following four runs were all scored on either a passed ball or wild pitch in an inning that featured an error, a hit batter, three walks and three steals.
“They’re high school boys, so it’s going to happen, but we just didn’t do a good job in the one inning of minimizing any mistakes and errors,” Spring Valley coach Brandon Walczak said. “It kind of came back to bite us. We were in a good spot, though, and it didn’t go as planned.”
Another mistake would do Spring Valley in, as Thorp’s Isaac Soumis was able to get on base in the seventh with one out on a dropped third strike. He stole second and Stunkel had the green light. He hammered a towering homer over the left field wall to keep Thorp’s afternoon going.
“It looked like a beach ball to me,” Stunkel said. “I told (Soumis) if he gets on base I’ll win it for us. Sure enough, it was a pitch right down the pipe.”
While Thorp’s season didn’t end in Grand Chute, the Cardinals have youth returning after a strong finish to the season.
“For us, it was a great season,” Drost said. “Sectional final after having kind of a rough go in the Western Cloverbelt. We got better as the year progressed and I think this is definitely something to build on.”
Webster 14, Thorp 0
Webster 243 50x x — 14 9 0
Thorp 000 00x x — 0 0 4
WP: Jack Wasburn (5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 8 K). LP: Chris Komanec (1.1 IP, 0 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K). Leading hitters — Jack Washburn 2-3 (5 RBI, R).
Thorp 7, Spring Valley 6
Spring Valley 060 000 0 — 6 8 2
Thorp 005 000 2 — 7 3 4
WP: Chris Komanec (5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K). LP: Mike Bauer (4 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K). Leading hitters — Spring Valley: Bauer 1-4 (2 RBI), Charlie Maier (2 RBI, R), Carter Deppa 4-4 (R). Thorp: Ryan Stunkel 1-2 (2R HR, 2 R), Charlie Hauser 1-4 (RBI, R).