WAUNAKEE — Earlier Wednesday, Waunakee junior Joe Hauser looked out from the school’s commons area and saw the flags whipping and the direction the 21 mph winds were blowing.
Hauser anticipated fly balls receiving an extra jolt in the blustery conditions when the defending WIAA Division 1 state champion Waunakee baseball team opened its season later in the day against Sun Prairie, which just happened to be the team Hauser played for last season.
When Hauser stepped to the plate with runners at first and third and one out in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday evening, he was looking for a fastball from Sun Prairie reliever Logan Lange. Hauser hoped to drive the ball and bring in the tying run.
He wound up getting much more.
Hauser launched a three-run homer that landed beyond the right-center field fence and gave the Warriors a come-from-behind 6-4 non-conference victory. It was Hauser’s first walk-off blast since he began playing baseball as a young boy.
“I’ve never experienced it before,” Hauser said. “I’ve never felt it. It’s an amazing feeling. It feels better to just get a team ‘W.’ I mean, it’s a home run to win the game, but it’s for the team. It’s not just for yourself.”
He said he barreled up a fastball, but acknowledged the shot was wind-aided.
“I hit it pretty hard, but I don’t think it would have gone out on a regular day,” he said.
Hauser, who transferred into the Waunakee district prior to the school year, said it was a family decision to move and that he had played on GRB baseball teams with some of the Waunakee players.
“Sun Prairie was great to me,” Hauser said. “I loved it there. It’s just a new start for me here. It doesn’t really mean much more. It’s a win for our team. It’s a good win to start the season and we are off to a good start.”
Hauser, who played shortstop and catcher Wednesday, was used as a designated hitter for Sun Prairie last year while on the mend from a torn labrum. Wednesday marked his first action in the infield since a year ago in March, he said.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Waunakee coach Spencer Lee said. “He’s come in and really just become that integral part of everything we are doing out there. We were fortunate it was his turn to come up to bat at that time because whether he got a hit or an out, I knew he’d have a good at-bat. Obviously, he had a great at-bat and won the game.”
Waunakee (1-0), the state’s No. 1 team in PrepBaseballReport.com’s preseason rankings, overcame a 4-2 deficit. Warriors senior Nate Stevens, an Arkansas commit, crushed a solo homer to right in the sixth inning.
Waunakee starter Taiten Manriquez struck out seven and threw four shutout innings before being lifted. Seventh-ranked Sun Prairie (0-1) then rallied for four runs in the fifth inning, taking a 4-2 lead on sophomore right fielder Liam Moreno’s two-out, two-run triple.
“We were in position to win it,” Sun Prairie coach Rob Hamilton said. “(The matchup with Waunakee) teaches us we have to get better, because we lost. We had some miscues in the field that gave them a couple runs. We had some miscues on the basepaths that ended up costing us some runs. … We did some good things, but not enough.”
The Warriors scored the game’s first two runs in the third inning when Moreno and Cardinals sophomore second baseman Carson Shepard collided on junior Nick Smith’s two-out pop fly to right-center and the ball dropped to the ground. Smith was credited with a hit.
Waunakee center fielder Ryne Fueger’s diving catch to rob Moreno and secure the second out kept Sun Prairie from adding a run in the top of the seventh.
“It didn’t feel like a March game, that’s for sure,” Lee said. “There was some pretty good intensity on both sides. Both teams were making a lot of big plays, good plays out there. Fortunately, we were able to come out on top with a big hit at the end.”
Sun Prairie 000 040 0 — 4 2 0
Waunakee 002 001 3 — 6 9 2
Pitching (ip-h-r-er-bb-so): SP — Fluno (4-5-2-2-1-4), Lange (L,3-4-4-4-0-3); W — Manriquez (4-0-0-0-1-7), Smith (1-1-4-2-2-0), Stevens (W, 2-1-0-0-2-2).
Hitting leaders — SP: 3B — Moreno. W: Hauser 2x4, Stevens 2x2, Lewis 2x3. 2B — Smith, Lewis. HR — Stevens, Hauser.