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Homestead baseball team bats and spirit carried it to state this year

Overcame thin pitching staff

Aug. 5, 2014

Homestead baseball coach Ernie Millard had to put off a phone call the other night because he had a routine, but still important ,task to take care of.

It was one last senior off this season's special 26-8 WIAA state runner-up squad dropping off his uniform at Millard's house.

"I really didn't want to do it the day before because I wasn't at home that day," he chuckled sadly. "He was a senior, so I wanted to be there. There was just such a special bond between these kids this year. They worked hard and they got to the (state) tourney and people recognize how important that is.

"I woke up Saturday morning (July 26 after the 9-2 state finals loss to Brookfield Central the night before) and I realized that it wouldn't have mattered if we had won or lost the state title or not even gotten there, I was just so satisfied with the outcome of the season, with the way they acted, the way they treated each other all season."

The summer was special in other ways because, as Millard noted a couple of weeks ago at the awards ceremony following the Highlanders' WIAA sectional championship: "How did we get here?"

Indeed, because as often noted this summer, Homestead's strength was definitely not in its pitching. Almost every inning from 2013 was gone, including NOW All-Suburban and all-state choice Colten Poellinger.

Millard calculated that returnees Jared Stieve and Ben Garstecki had exactly one start each in 2013 and that was it as far as experience was concerned.

"I didn't see the charms of our pitching staff right away," Millard laughed. "We had to rebuild it out of necessity. I asked a lot out of (sophomore) Erik (Skaar) and Jared (Stieve) had had some success at the JV level last year and Ben (Garstecki) I knew what I had in him." Sophomore Garrett Erfourth and senior Chris Mueller also gave it a game effort this summer.

It was rarely pretty, but it was effective. Stieve developed into something of a team ace (9-1, 2.38 ERA) while Skaar (6-1, 2.75) was the number two. Garstecki, meanwhile, developed into the team's all-purpose reliever, performing feats of magic in the WIAA tourney series.

"I can't tell you how many games we had three pitchers on the mound," said Millard. "It was a real credit to the kids. One would struggle and another would pick them up."

All told, the team ERA was an average 3.89 but it was more than made up for by a power-hitting offense that was propelled by a team batting average of .326 and averaged a ridiculous 8.9 runs a game. Homestead posted double-digit run totals in 15 games.

"We had a really dynamic offense," said Millard, "and we could usually go about eight or nine deep. We just had guys who could put it in play who could knock in runs."

The Highlanders were the only team to give high-level pitchers such as Nick Lackney of Whitefish Bay and Ty Weber of Menomonee Falls losses this season.

WBCA second-team all-state outfielder Bryce Juedes led the way offensively, hitting .423 with 31 runs scored and 26 RBIs. He got big-time help from shortstop Trevor Cho (.396, 33 runs, team high 29 RBIs); Ian Koch (.375); Mitch Sutton (.349, 32 runs, 24 RBIs); Eric Wade (.297, team high 38 runs); Sean Driscoll (.297); Michael Schulz (.295); and Stieve (.286, grand slam in sectional semi against Falls).

All told, there were nine players in double digits for RBIs.

"Stieve was hitting out of the seven hole (when he hit the grand slam) and Schulz had such big hits in the tourney and Luke Neusen came up big too," said Millard. "We really didn't have to rely on one or two guys to get it done. It was to the guys' credit, the kids and how hard they worked."

To no one's surprise, Juedes was team MVP ("Also our best leader too," said Millard), while catcher Luke Lebesch was named the most improved and Wade earned the Highlander award for character and leadership. Juedes and Wade were the co-captains.

The team's offense will take a hit through graduation as Juedes, Wade, Koch, and Schulz graduate. The pitching staff will be in much better shape as only Garstecki and Mueller leave. Other seniors included Lebesch, Mike Lamers and Adam Stadler.

The junior varsity had a winning record and the freshman squad finished well.

"Just a very enjoyable season," said Millard, "and if the rest come back with the same work ethic we will get better again (next season)."

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