Down 1-0 in the top of the second inning, No. 5 seeded Homestead appeared to be staring a 2-0 deficit in the face. That was until Highlanders junior pitcher Jake Erfourth fielded a bunt in front of the mound and fired it to third base, cutting down the lead runner and silencing 12th-seeded Port Washington's threat.
That set the stage for Homestead to plate four runs in the bottom of the third inning, earning three walks and scratching out two hits, paving the way to a 5-2 WIAA summer baseball regional semifinal victory Tuesday night at Rennicke Field.
“My defense had my back and I just tried to keep the ball down,” said Erfourth, who struck out five while walking three, with just a lone earned run against him. “The bunt right back at me was big to get the runner on third. That was a bit of a turning point in the game. It took their momentum.”
The victory earns Homestead a spot in Friday’s regional final at No. 4 seed Arrowhead, which topped Nicolet, 3-1.
The Pirates (10-19) collected a pair of one-out walks off Erfourth in the fourth inning but did not get a runner past first base the rest of the game.
“I was hitting my spots and getting my breaking ball down and in as a strike early in the count,” Erfouth said. “That set batters up for what I wanted to do.”
Added Homestead coach Ernie Millard: “Frankly, I was dissatisfied they scored two runs they shouldn’t have scored. Jake pitched well enough for that not to happen. He got better as the game went on; there was no question in my mind about that. When he got ahead in the count, he got outs”
With Erfourth settled in, the Highlanders (21-9) defense helped the cause with a double play in the fifth to erase a leadoff single.
“Once he got through the kinks, I thought (Erfourth) did a fantastic job of keeping the ball down,” Millard said. “I’m really pleased, especially with the complete game because he is feeling good about himself again and it makes everyone else available for Friday night.”
Trailing early, the Homestead offense showed patience in the bottom of the third. Shortstop Mike Bradford singled to lead off the inning and left fielder Thomas Fazio, and first baseman Joe Stadler each took four-pitch walks to load the bases for Erfourth.
A balk brought the first-run in. Then Erfourth singled up the middle to put Homestead up 2-1.
“There were not many easy outs in our lineup today. That hasn’t happened a lot this year,” said Millard of his team’s patience at the plate on a night when all nine batters reached base via hit or walk. “I was frustrated we didn’t show patience at other times, swinging at a bad pitch or not getting a good pitch to lead off an inning.”
Catcher Ben Binversie took a walk to bring in the third run of the big third inning. Designated hitter Max Heinrich, who doubled in the second, scored Erfourth with a sacrifice fly to left to make it 4-1.
Up 4-2 in the bottom of the sixth, right fielder Tyler Gerhke led off the inning with a walk and was moved to second on a sacrifice by center fielder Colton Poellinger, setting up Fazio’s two-out RBI single.
“Right now if we need a run, Thomas Fazio is the guy I want up,” Millard said. “He is just getting it done all the time.
“I was standing next to their dugout (in the third-base coaching box) and I could tell that run stung.”
The insurance run helped Erfourth breathe a bit easier on the mound in the top of the seventh as the Pirates did get a two-out single.
“That run helped me stay at ease,” Erfourth said. “They could have gotten two guys on and I would have still been fine.”
While Millard admitted the win was far from perfect, a win, especially in the playoffs, is just what he was hoping for.
“I’m just excited to have three more days of practice,” Millard said.
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