"Have you ever seen a high school pitcher with a 40-inning scoreless streak?"
That was the casual aside that veteran Homestead baseball coach Ernie Millard threw out after finishing intereviews Monday night, after his ace Colten Poellinger shut out Grafton, 4-0, running his record to 7-0 and helping keep his team in the North Shore race in the final week of the regular season.
Poellinger has not been scored upon in the NSC campaign and has allowed only two runs all season.
But despite throwing six innings of two-hit ball with 11 strikeoutes, just two walks and just one hit batter, he was not impressed with himself this evening.
"It wasn't a pretty game," he said, "...I was losing a little control of the fastball, so I had to go to the off-speed pitches a little more so I could get back in (control of) the count."
Homestead improved to 11-5 in North Shore play and 17-6 overall, but it did not get any help in its outside hopes of trying to sneak in and earn a share of the North Shore Conference title as both Germantown (11-3 in NSC games) and Cedarburg (11-5) both won Monday night too.
"We did this to ourselves (earlier in the season)," said Millard. "It is what it is, so we'll just try to go out and win games."
The WIAA sectional seeding meeting will be held Tuesday. Millard is hoping for as high as a two seed, but realistically thinks his squad will likely get the third spot.
Poellinger did his part with help from teammate Jake Erfourth, as the Highlanders beat the game Black Hawks and their ace Nate Lukas.
And it was fortunate for the Highlanders that unlike Poellinger, who started to tire late after throwing 113 pitches, Lukas took a little time getting his game going.
Poellinger started things with a first pitch double. He got picked off, but then teammate Mike Bradford got hit by a pitch, and then Thomas Fazio singled.
Erfourth then hit what Millard estimated was his sixth home run of the season, a mammoth shot to left field that gave Homestead a 3-0 lead.
"We've been working hard with Jake," said Millard. "He has a very nice home run swing."
Poellinger, who has been used to waiting to the very end of games to get his offensive support, was grateful for the early boost.
"I made an error in judgment (getting picked off)," said Poellinger, "but then Jake really picked me up. ...We've been struggling to get runs early so that was great to see as it really gave us some breathing room."
Millard was impressed that his up-and-down offense was finally able to get something done early.
"When I saw that pick-off, I said 'Here we go again, the great offensive juggernaut (sarcasm intended),'" said Millard, "but then Fazio had a great hit and then Jake (Erfourth) just crushed that ball (for the home run)."
That was fortunate for Homestead as Lukas found his rhythm and held the Highlanders in chceck for the next five innings.
"If we hadn't scored early I don't when we would have," said Millard.
Poellinger used that advantage well. He had trouble falling behind in the count all night, but rallied to get outs time and again as for long stretches, his curveball was absolutely devastating.
But in the fourth, he ran into a serious problem, as an error, a walk and a hit batter loaded the bases with one-out.
However, that's when Poellinger found what Millard called his extra gear, striking out the next two Black Hawks. The first swinging, the second on an inside fastball on a full-count pitch.
""You talk about different gears," said Millard. "His seems to come with runners in scoring position. His fastball picked up some extra zip and his curveball became more effective."
Poellinger needed to do that again in the fifth, as a walk and a single put two on with none out. After a sacrifice put runners at second and third, Poellinger didn't blink, striking out the next two batters swinging to end the threat.
A quiet sixth inning with only an error to mar it ended his night. Millard noted that if the Highlanders (three errors) had been able to pick up the ball, Poellinger would not have had to throw so many pitches.
Again, Poellinger was not impressed with himself in working out of those jams.
"I just tried to put pitches in the right position and let the defense make plays," he said.
Homestead got a badly-needed insurance run in the seventh off of Lukas, as a walk to Bryce Juedes, a sacrifice and a single up the middle by RBI machine Trevor Cho made it 4-0.
Erfourth pitched the Grafton half of the seventh in relief of Poellinger. He issued two walks, but a fly-out to right ended the game and gave the Highlanders a badly-needed victory.
"I was never comfortable in this game until it was over," said Millard. ""Colten was a bit argumentative (about coming out) and wanted to stay in and I like that in him."
In the end, Poellinger was just relieved to get the "W".
"It was a big win for us and may help us get the (WIAA) seed that we want," he said.
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