Burlington baseball players (from left) Bryan Stur-devant, Zach Campbell and Tanner Strommen rejoice moments after capturing the WIAA Division 1 state title June 16. (Mike Ramczyk/SLN)

 

By Mike Ramczyk

sports@southernlakesnewspapers.com

It’s that time of year again.

We’re taking a look back at the best of 2016, which featured historic team and individual accomplishments, plenty of controversy and a ton of new coaches.

The year brought heart-warming tales of help, along with heartbreaking defeats and personal tragedies and setbacks.

This year’s stories were decided based on overall community reaction, impact and historic significance.

Team accomplishments earned more weight than individual accolades.

It was an amazing year, with state champions, state runner-ups and local athlete headliners.

Without further adieu, let’s take a look at this year’s sports story of the year, the Burlington baseball state championship.

It was the Demons’ first state title in program history, as they knocked off Arrowhead for a dramatic, come-from-behind 6-4 victory back in June in Appleton.

 

Here’s an excerpt from our original story:

Burlington senior Cal Tully picked the right time to turn into Superman.

Or maybe Bugs Bunny.

You know, how in the old cartoons Bugs would not only hit the ball, but he’d run with lightning speed in a split second to the outfield and catch it?

That’s the kind of night Tully had June 16 in the WIAA Division 1 state championship game against Arrowhead, and it helped the Demons win their first title in school history, 6-4.

Normally a shortstop, Tully pitched 5 1/3 innings of relief after Burlington fell into a 4-0 hole, went 3-for-3 at the plate with two RBIs, and most importantly stopped the bleeding just enough for the deep Demon lineup to hit its stride.

Burlington rallied with two runs in the sixth and a furious four spot in the seventh to knock off the Warhawks.

The Demons (25-5) finish the season as state champs, their first title in school history after appearing at state in 1991 and 2005.

Arrowhead’s season ends at 29-3.

“I felt a little tired out there,” Tully said. “I was throwing as hard as I could every pitch. I knew I had to keep working through to keep our season alive, making sure they don’t score anymore.”

Tully, who tossed one inning in Tuesday’s semifinal victory, exhausted nearly all of his remaining six innings. He hadn’t pitched more than three innings in a game all season.

“I’m at a loss for words a little right now. I knew it was my last game as a Demon, and I was going to give it my all for my guys. You can’t finish any better than this. I’m so proud and happy. I think we deserved it.”

 

Major trouble early

Senior Aaron Mutter, who started and earned the win in Tuesday’s semifinal, had three innings of eligibility left and started against Arrowhead. But five of the first seven hitters tallied hits, and Burlington found itself in a 4-0 hole before it had a chance to bat.

Tully moved from shortstop to pitcher, and Mutter moved to right field.

Tully proceeded to mow down the Warhawks, retiring them in order in three of the next five innings and allowing only two hits.

Tully’s curve ball was buckling the Warhawk batters’ knees, resulting in many routine groundouts.

“It was one of the gutsiest performances I’ve ever seen,” said Burlington coach Scott Staude on Tully. “It was just a wonderful job.”

 

An offensive explosion

Staude told the players before the sixth inning that if they could muster one hit, they could come back and win the game.

The Demons, who had a penchant for the big inning all season, warmed up in the sixth, as singles by Mutter and Aaron Sturdevant and two throwing errors cut the lead to 4-1.

Then, Tully hit a deep sacrifice fly to center to score Dale Damon, who reached on a fielder’s choice.

The lead was cut in half, and Tully enjoyed another 1-2-3 in the sixth after allowing a leadoff double.

With the momentum clearly shifted, Burlington rolled in the seventh.

Grant Tully led off with a clean single between third and shortstop, followed by a Zach Campbell single to center.

Arrowhead replaced Derek Crawley on the mound with Andrew Miller, who got the first out on a Bryan Sturdevant sacrifice bunt, which moved Grant Tully and Campbell into scoring position.

The next batter, Damon, who hit .600 in the state tournament (6-10), waited to swing until the sixth pitch he saw, but banged the full-count fastball up the middle to tie the game at 4-4.

“I’ve been seeing the ball well lately, and I was just trying to see my pitch,” Damon said. “He threw three straight balls, it was a fastball count, and I was just sitting on it. It was the spark we needed. We were hitting the ball well all game, but they just weren’t falling. We knew eventually we’d get some runs across the board.”

On Wednesday, the Demons took in a movie and Damon left his wallet behind at the theater. Staude drove back to retrieve the wallet, safe and sound. He told Damon, “You owe me one.”

“He said if I got a hit there, we’d be even,” Damon said. “I figured I better pay up.”

With Mutter at third and one out, Staude made a gutsy call, a suicide squeeze bunt for Aaron Sturdevant, who laid it down to the right side between the pitcher and first base.

Mutter scored easily, and the Demons took a 5-4 lead.

Tanner Williams relieved Miller, but Tully rapped his third hit up the middle to score Damon and make it 6-4 heading into Arrowhead’s last at-bat.

Campbell came on for the save and yielded two ground-ball outs. The next hitter reached on a ball that took a tough hop past Sturdevant at second, and the tying run came to the plate.

Campbell struck out pinch hitter Tyler Jones swinging on a curve ball, and the Demons mobbed each other in front of the pitching mound.

 

The “no-quit kids”

Just like they did after the sectional final victory, the Demons simply jumped on top of each other and formed a pile of bodies.

Everyone sought out teammates and coaches to hug, and players shed tears of joy.

“They’re the no-quit kids,” Staude said about his team. “Every inning, you’re telling the guys to keep fighting. It’s easy to put your head down and say it’s not our day. I know it’s cliche, but they don’t quit. That’s special. You can’t coach that, you can’t teach that. It’s not me, it’s them.”

“I was more nervous in the first game against Craig. This time, we gambled with Mutter. He just wasn’t very sharp. We knew we were going to score. It always evens out. It was a special comeback.”

“I’m proud of our team, I’m proud of our community. I’m proud of our fans, I’m proud of every single coach that’s worked with these guys, I’m proud of our alumni coming back to support us. What an atmosphere. That’s all you can ask for.”

 

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