Even before they won 14 of their first 15 games to rise to No. 1 in a mid-season WIAA Division 2 poll, the 2001 Beloit Turner Trojans knew they were capable of a special season.
Special might be a bit understated. The Trojans won their final 11 games to wrap up a best-ever 25-2 season and a state championship.
“I think back to the 2000 team, when we had seniors like Jon Bussie, Matt Huffman and Eric Stauffacher and what coach (Rick) Hofeditz called ‘a bunch of stupid sophomores who didn’t understand what we were doing,’” said Jeff Clowse, one of those sophs and now Turner’s head coach. “We were kind of wide-eyed. We still went 17-3 and snuck in for a conference championship.
“But we lost in the sectionals to East Troy and that put a sour taste in our mouths. Watching Jon, Matt and Eric have to step away and seeing what we had coming back, there was an internal belief. We expected to win.”
Win they did, led by ace pitcher Korey Keller, who was 12-1 with a 0.30 ERA during the regular season.
“That whole year I don’t ever remember thinking about losing,” said Keller, who now lives in Burlington. “We were just out there working hard and having fun and we meshed together so well. (Catcher Chris) Book brought a lot of that mentality to that team.”
Book was in a Turner uniform because Beloit Catholic had shut its doors. He had met Keller and Bussie in Legion ball and Turner suddenly became his best option. He hit .370 and the left-handed catcher gave the team some definite swagger.
“To win in high school baseball you have to have good pitching,” Clowes said. “Korey was the best pitcher in the state that year and arguably the best pitcher in Turner baseball history. Mike Church and Mike Moriarty also had great seasons. But when you talk about intensity and what drove us, Chris Book was that guy. He had a very high baseball IQ and was our coach on the field.”
Book says the Trojans not only had talent, they also had chemistry.
“We had some younger guys who maybe were still a little star struck and some older guys who were kind of pirates with no fear,” Book said. “It gave us a really nice balance and allowed us to play really loose.
“I don’t know if that 2001 team ever thought about winning the state tournament, but I think we knew we weren’t supposed to lose. When we won, it wasn’t a ‘miracle on ice’ moment. It was what we were supposed to do.”
Book says the unsung hero was DH Derek Sweger.
“He was the spiritual leader of that team,” Book said. “When I came over from Catholic, I think a lot of people thought he was going to hate me because he wanted to catch. We were very close very quickly. Derek was in my wedding. He really was a ringleader for that team.”
Plenty of players from 2000 had breakout years in 2001. Clowes went from hitting .259 to .410 with a team-record 41 hits and 16 doubles. Shawn West went from .283 to .348. Keller went from .304 to .350. Shortstop Cole Carlson went from .267 to a team-high .414.
“A lot of that improvement was because of the way we practiced,” Keller said. “For two hours you were flying around, diving, getting dirty, running; you were exhausted when you were done. When you get to games, it’s second-nature. I think coach set the expectations high and everyone worked their tail off to meet them.”
Kyle Murphy, who started in left field as a sophomore, said he remembers the Trojans’ competitiveness came out during those practices.
“We would have scrimmage-type games and it was on in those games,” he said. “Coach always did a great job of applying pressure on us in practice where you felt you were at a crucial point in a game. When those points came up, maybe it wasn’t as stressful as it was for other teams.”
After opening the season with two wins, the Trojans fell to Hononegah, 6-0, but then reeled off 12 straight wins before Evansville edged them, 4-2, in the second game of a double-header.
“We popped up 14 times,” Clowes said. “Worst prom night ever. It was a wakeup call.”
The Trojans didn’t lose again. No team could stop their charge. Parkview and McFarland both fell 10-0 in regional action and Turner avenged its loss to the Blue Devils by blanking them 3-0 in the regional final.
In the sectionals, they flattened a talented Westby team, 7-3 and then caught a break when Wisconsin Dells upset favored Ripon. The Trojans dominated the sectional final, 7-2.
In a nice twist of fate, the Trojans found themselves matched up with Winneconne in the semifinals of the state tournament at Fox Cities Stadium in Appleton. That was the same school that had eliminated Turner in its last appearance at state in 1992. Ironically, the school which Turner lost to in the finals of its only other state appearance in 1994—Nekoosa—was also in the field of four.
Turner never got the chance to avenge that loss. Whitewater ace Matt Perdue blanked Nekoosa in its semifinal, 1-0.
Unlike the Whippets, the Trojans conserved some innings for Keller by steamrolling Winneconne, 10-2.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better scenario in that first game,” Hofeditz said afterward.
Keller retired six straight Winneconne batters, four on strikeouts. When the Trojans jumped out to a 7-0 lead, partially because Keller blasted a hanging curve for a three-run homer, Hofeditz made his move.
He brought in Church in relief of Keller and the Wolves barely noticed the difference. He fanned the side in his first inning.
Winneconne did manage a run in the fourth, but didn’t get another hit until the seventh. By then Turner was up 10-1. Moriarty finished off the win with two strikeouts, giving Turner pitchers 14 in all.
Just a footnote on Keller’s homer. Two pitches before he launched it, he had been hit in the back by a pitch, but the umpire ruled he did not make enough of an attempt to avoid it and wouldn’t allow him first base. Undaunted, Keller crushed a curveball over the fence. He also hit a double and drove in five runs in all. Turner’s 13-hit attack also included two hits by Clowes and Sweger.
Even with Perdue out of the way, the championship game amounted to a pitchers’ duel. Turner only managed two hits off Whitewater’s Josh Luebke, but it was enough to produce a 2-0 victory.
In the third inning, Josh Dailey walked, stole second, tagged up and moved to third on a long flyout and scored on a passed ball.
Luebke didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning. Shawn West collected a one-out single, but was wiped out on a fielder’s choice by Clowes. Murphy reached on an error and Carlson belted a run-scoring single to left to make it 2-0.
Keller had started for Turner and pitched two scoreless innings. With Turner up 1-0 and Winneconne’s 7-8-9 hitters coming up in the third, Hofeditz went to Church. He came in throwing strikes and retired the side in order twice before Keller, who had been playing first, went back to the mound to finish out the victory.
Keller allowed just three singles in his five innings with one walk and eight strikeouts. He hiked his career record at Turner to 27-4, then went on to pitch for UW-Milwaukee.
There was a little drama in the seventh as Keller allowed a one-out single, but he got the next batter to fly out to Murphy and the final batter on a comebacker to the mound.
The Trojans’ big three of Keller, Church and Moriarty combined to strike out 22 batters in 14 innings at state. Keller allowed only three hits and no runs over his seven innings, walking one and fanning 11.
Keller and Clowes both earned First Team All-State and All-District 5. Keller was named Player of the Year in the RVC and joined four teammates on the First Team: Moriarty, Clowes, West and Murphy, who would go on to play for the University of Kansas. He played minor league ball for the Texas Rangers.
Hofeditz was Coach of the Year in the RVC and the state of Wisconsin.
“He was a great guy to play for,” Keller said. “He had a very high standard. Even if you were a really good player he would get on you if he didn’t think you were giving your best effort. He never played favorites. You don’t have a tradition like Turner had unless you have a coach who can get the most out of people.”