Germantown pitcher Brian Keller celebrated his 18th birthday in grand style Thursday night, by holding Homestead to just one hit and picking up his second win in three days, as the Warhawks cemented their hold on first place in the North Shore Conference with a 6-1 victory.
"I felt good out there," he said. "I wasn't too tired. I run everyday so I feel good about my conditioning. Everything felt in the groove today and it's fun right now for us. We're playing as a real team. ...We're hitting the ball, keeping the errors down and just playing good overall baseball."
The win was the eighth in a row for the senior-dominated Warhawks who are now 8-2 in North Shore play and 11-5 overall. They enjoy a 1-1/2 game lead over both West Bend West and Cedarburg (7-4) while Homestead fell to 6-6 in league play and 12-6 overall.
Homestead coach Ernie Millard admires the heck out of Keller, but wishes he would see him a little less often than he does.
"He's the only Germantown pitcher we've seen in the last two years," he said. "He didn't throw as hard as he did the first time we played (a 1-0 Germantown win), but his command is just so good. That just makes it hard for us, because we don't score as much as we used to."
Germantown coach Jeff Wolf had faith that Keller would be ready on short rest.
"He pitched on Monday (an 7-0 win over Cedarburg) but he didn't have to throw too many pitches in that game," Wolf said. "Brian believes in himself and he takes care of himself. We weren't going to do anything to jeopardize his arm but he felt like he was ready to go."
And he was.
Keller (eight strikeouts and one walk) set down the first nine Highlanders that he faced. In the interim, the Warhawks staked him to a 3-0 lead in the third against the Highlanders' Austin Ralph as second baseman Zach Kumbier laced a rocket of a two-run single to right-center to score both Blake Fleischman (single) and Jordan Kuczynski (fielder's choice).
Tom Andrus scored later on a wild pitch.
Homestead had one good chance against Keller in the fourth, as Colton Poellinger got the lone hit of the night for the Highlanders on a single to left. A walk followed, and after a strikeout, an error on a routine play to the right side loaded the bases.
A balk by Keller shortly thereafter scored Poellinger with Homestead's only run, but Keller bore down and got Joe Stadler to fly out to right (no tag up was attempted) and then Thomas Fazio to pop out to short.
"If there's anyone I wanted up there with two outs and the bases-loaded it was Fazio," said Millard, "but Keller was too good in that situation."
Keller was irritated after the balk call and knew he had to settle down.
"I was a little upset," he said. "With myself and the umpire, but I just had to go out there and pitch."
That he did, setting down 11 of the last 12 Highlanders he faced. Only a one-out error in the seventh gave Homestead any kind of hope but that was quickly erased by two game-ending groundouts.
As noted, Millard was impressed with Keller.
"Jeff (Wolf) and I have known each other for 20 years," said Millard, "and I told him that I think he's the best pure pitcher that we've faced. He's not the hardest thrower, but just the best pure pitcher with his moxie on the mound and his command."
And Millard wouldn't mind not seeing Keller and his knee-knocking curveball again anytime soon.
"When Colton (Poellinger) got that hit, I think it was our second baserunner in like a game-and-a-half against him," he said.
Germantown, which got a two-run single from Andrus in the sixth and an RBI single from Jimm Doedens in the seventh got two hits apiece from Doedens, Flesichman, Danny Krause and Louis Tuszynski.
The hit by Andrus was a hard one-hopper that bounced off the head of Highlander second baseman Jake Erfourth. Erfourth, also one of Homestead's top pitchers, had to leave the game with cuts above his eye.
Germantown now just wants to keep things going.
"This is a huge week for us in conference," said Wolf, whose team will host Grafton in another league game at 5:30 p.m. Friday, "and when I initially looked at our schedule (five games in as many days), I was a bit worried, because in this league, every game is a battle."
"It's a long week to be sure, but when you're playing as well as we are with this much confidence, you just want to keep going."
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