Veteran Homestead baseball coach Ernie Millard is not supposed to have a pitching staff this season.
Brilliant All-Suburban and All-State selection Colten Poellinger and all his friends are gone.
And yet, disaster had not visited the Highlanders. In fact, they have thrived, turning in a 6-2 North Shore Conference mark and a 12-3 overall record through Monday, June 16. They routed area rival Nicolet, 9-1.
Millard has been impressed, pleased and stunned.
"I really can't believe how good this team has been so far," he said. "We've really exceeded early expectations. We literally lost 95 percent of our innings last year. We lost all those guys and we really thought it would be an Achilles' heel of ours.
"But despite some struggles, they keep throwing as many strikes as they can and keeping us in games."
Manning the rebuilt pitching staff has been junior Jared Stieve, senior Ben Garstecki, sophomore Eric Skaar, junior starting shortstop Trevor Cho and senior Garrett Erfourth. Garstecki is the only one of them with even limited pitching experience from last year.
And the Highlanders are succeeding despite only a limited amount of experience in the field. Cho is in his third year on varsity and is doing a great job, said Millard, while junior Mitch Sutton, who came off shoulder surgery, is handling third again. Senior Bryce Juedes will again be patrolling leftfield.
Other starters in the field include senior catcher Luke Lebesch, senior first baseman Mike Schulz, senior Eric Wade is leading off and starting at second but can also handle any number of other positions, said Millard.
In center field will be junior Luke Neusen and in right will be senior Ian Koch, who did not start the season in the lineup but worked his way into it through hustle and a hot bat.
Sophomore Sean Driscoll will be the designated hitter/reserve outfielder.
Millard expects to be chasing area rival Whitefish Bay, to which Homestead lost 13-1, on June 12, the rest of the summer.
"They're even better than I thought they'd be," said Millard. "They're the total package."
But he expects his newly surging squad to be able to least keep pace with the Blue Dukes.
"I told the kids, my expectations have really gone up," he said.
In the win over Nicolet, Cho, Garstecki and senior Chris Mueller split pitching duties with Cho getting the win with five strikeouts in three innings as Juedes and Schulz had two hits apiece. An eight-run second did the trick.
The Highlanders will visit Cedarburg on Thursday, June 19, host Greendale at newly refurbished Rennicke Field on Friday, June 20 and will be at Slinger on Monday, June 23. All games are at 5:30 p.m.
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