Hauser's big debut helps Waunakee walk off Sun Prairie

By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer

WAUNAKEE, Wis. – It didn’t take long for Joe Hauser to acclimate to his own surroundings – against his former team no less.

Hauser transferred to Waunakee from Sun Prairie in the fall, as one of the state’s top 2020 prospects. Still uncommitted, Hauser was set to make his debut in the Warriors’ purple and white on Wednesday, in Waunakee’s home opener, where they’d host his former squad, Sun Prairie.

The game had plenty of compelling storylines even beyond the Hauser-Sun Prairie connections; both teams are ranked inside PBR Wisconsin’s top 10 on the Power 25, the Warriors at No. 1 and the Cardinals at No. 7, and it was the first game of the spring for both teams, too.

But, ultimately, Hauser made this early season match-up one to remember. We’ll set up Hauser’s heroics first.

Waunakee’s junior righty Taiten Manriquez opposed Sun Prairie’s junior righty Carson Fluno and both pitched well, though Manriquez in particular looked dominant. The uncommitted right-hander, ranked in the top 25 of the state’s 2020 class, mostly carved through a young but talented Sun Prairie lineup in his four innings of work. He allowed just one hit, walked one, hit another, and struck out seven with the help of an effective fastball-curveball combination. He was relieved to start the fifth with a 2-0 lead.

Waunakee earned that two-run lead in the third when Caden Lewis led the inning off with a double to right. The wind howled on this day, which made any fly ball an adventure for the outfield. With Lewis on second and nobody out, Fluno looked as if he was going to pitch out of it after he coaxed Hauser to roll a routine groundout to third and struck out Manriquez. After intentionally walking the lefty slugger Nathan Stevens, four-hole bat Nick Smith popped a short fly to shallow right that landed in between a colliding second baseman and right fielder, allowing both baserunners to score.

In the fifth, Smith’s first inning of work out of the bullpen, he had trouble finding the zone. A mixture of walks, hit batters, and an infield single helped score Sun Prairie’s first run. Sophomore lead-off man Carson Shepard hit a fly ball to right that was caught, but plenty deep enough to score the tying run. Then, with two outs and two runners on, fellow sophomore Liam Moreno worked a tough at-bat and eventually barreled a triple to straightaway center, granting the Cardinals a 4-2 lead in the process.

Senior Logan Lange was working in relief of Fluno, and after an ultra quick first frame in the fifth, Stevens launched a deep home run to right to open the sixth, bringing Waunakee aback within a run, down 4-3.

In the seventh, with Stevens actually on the mound now, the sophomore sparkplug Shepard hustled out an infield single to open the inning and would have scored on yet another Moreno barreled baseball, had it not been for an excellent read and diving catch by Warriors center fielder Ryne Fueger. And Waunakee was still down just a single run with three outs to go.

Dane Luebke lined a single to right to open the bottom of the inning and was immediately pushed over to second on a successful sacrifice bunt. Lewis singled the other way to shallow right, but it wasn’t enough for Waunakee head coach Spencer Lee to wave in the tying run.

That was an excellent call, in hindsight, with Hauser headed to the plate. Hauser stayed on a breaking ball up and away to hammer a ball to deep right-center that just kept going, eventually traveling over the fence. A dramatic walk-off homer off the bat of the former Cardinal capped a remarkable game to open the spring between two heavyweights.

Both these teams should be in the race for a Division-1 title later this season. Though, No. 1-ranked Waunakee looks like they might have the talent to produce an even more historic campaign than last year’s, the one that led them to a state championship, too.