The pitching was supposed to carry the Homestead baseball team this year.
And in spurts, it has.
By far the most dominant performer has been senior Colten Poellinger who turned in another stunner on Monday, when he blanked Slinger for eight innings and waited just long enough for the Highlanders' offense to come alive in a 1-0 victory.
Using a mix of fastball, curveball and change-up, Poellinger has pitched four consecutive shutouts (27 innings total) for the Highlanders, turning in a dazzling strikeout-to-walk ratio of 37-1 in the process. He has also shut out West Bend West, 3-0, June 10, Port Washington, 9-0, June 6 (five perfect innings) and West Bend East, 7-0, May 31.
He gave up two runs in the seventh inning of a 5-2 non-conference victory over Plymouth May 24 and has been virtually untouchable since. Overall, after Monday, he has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 48-3.
'He's as good as anybody going out there right now,' Homestead coach Ernie Millard said. 'With him it's all location, location, location. He gets two strikes on you and then the next pitches you see are virtually unhittable.
'In all my years, he's been as good as anyone I've had out here.'
The win over Slinger improved the Highlanders to 11-5 overall and 6-4 in North Shore play.
They will be at North Shore leader Germantown at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and then will visit defending state champion Oak Creek at 11 a.m. Saturday before hosting North Shore rival Whitefish Bay at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
Poellinger was an effective pitcher last season for the Highlanders, but he said he was able to improve over the off-season by working on his mechanics.
'That way, I'm not putting so much stress on my arm,' he said. 'I'm throwing as well at the end of games as I am at the beginning.'
That was helpful on Monday as Poellinger's performance broke a dismal two-game pitching skid for the Highlanders where they gave up 26 runs in a pair of North Shore losses to Grafton (16-14) and Cedarburg (10-6).
In the win over Slinger, Poellinger was locked in a pitch-for-pitch dual with Owls' ace John Sprayberry (nine strikeouts and five walks). He also allowed seven hits but got out of jam after jam, until the eighth when Trevor Cho knocked home the winning run.
Poellinger helped himself in that game with two hits to go along with an 11-strikeout, no-walk effort.
'It was a great match-up,' said Millard, citing Sprayberry's reputation. 'I don't think Colten threw more than 90-plus pitches. He's just working so quickly and effectively right now.'
'It was a phenomenal game to go pitch-for-pitch with John (Sprayberry),' Poellinger added. 'He's a great pitcher. A win like that feels really good because we needed it after the last two losses.'
Cho knocked in the winning run with a one-out line-drive to right-center that scored Max Heinrich, who had opened the inning with a single and advanced to second on Ben Binversie's walk.
Cho's hit broke some game-long frustration for the Highlanders, as they left 12 runners on base against Sprayberry, while Poellinger stranded a paltry three.
That game was in stark contrast to the efforts that closed out the previous week for Homestead.
Millard was very pleased with the hitting efforts against Grafton and Cedarburg, but noted his heretofore otherwise solid pitchers could not get anybody out and the defense became a little slippery, too.
Against Grafton last Friday, it was 7-7 going into the fifth before the roof caved in on Homestead as the Blackhawks scored nine runs. Millard used four pitchers in the game.
Oddly enough, the Highlanders roared back with seven runs of their own in their half of the sixth. Millard said it would have been nine but the base umpire was blocked by the third baseman on what would have been a two-run double. The umpire called what Millard said was clearly a fair ball foul and the batter subsequently made out.
'But we made some errors and we couldn't get anybody out,' he said.
Cho had three hits with two runs scored, while Poellinger and Mike Bradford had two hits and three runs scored apiece, Thomas Fazio had three hits and Jake Erfourth two.
And against Cedarburg on June 13, Homestead was up 6-5 after three innings, but then the Bulldogs scored once in the fourth and twice in the fifth to pull ahead for good. Poellinger, Fazio and Cho had two hits apiece for Homestead, while Erfourth (took the loss) and Austin Ralph could not get out Cedarburg's Jonathan Stiever (three hits and four runs scored).
Six errors hurt the cause.
'One thing we couldn't do going into this week was hit,' Millard said. 'Then we hit well on Thursday and Friday (but we can't get a win). It was frustrating, but I was proud of how they came back against Grafton. It could have been easy to get down, but they battled.'