Nicolet centerfielder Brian Huntsinger said the best way to hit home runs, is to try not thinking about hitting home runs.
With that kind of logic in tow, roundtrippers must have been the furthest think from Huntsinger's mind Wednesday night in Germantown, as his majestic seventh-inning grand slam home run capped a two-dinger, eight-RBI night for him, and more importantly, capped a rally from a seven-run deficit for the Knights, as they beat the host Warhawks for the second time in as many nights, 16-11.
"I really don't know how this happened," said the returning All-Suburban outfielder, "but things are looking good. I just keep the same approach every time. Look for something good to hit. I try not to go up there thinking about home runs. I just try to work the field, go gap-to-gap and wait for a good pitch."
Huntsinger, whose three-run homer in the first gave the Knights an early lead, also had an RBI single in the fifth, as Nicolet maintained its hold on second place in the North Shore at 10-4 in league play and 20-8 overall. Germantown is now 10-11 overall.
The effort from Huntsinger reminded Nicolet mentor Dick Sykes of the first superstar he ever coached, former CNI Player of the Year Danny Winn. Winn was also an outfielder.
"The same kind of player, they were both just money," said Sykes, "but this was a huge win for us. We didn't lose our composure after we fell behind, but we're just so powerful one to seven in our order. When we hit the ball, we can be hard to stop."
And the Knights had to hit the ball. After Huntsinger's first blast helped Nicolet to a 4-0 first inning lead, its pitching staff had a hard time finding the plate and hanging onto the advantage.
Germantown hit Knight hurlers Joel Sharon and Bobby Herrick for eight runs in the third, but most of the damage was self-inflicted. The two pitchers combined for six walks and a key wild pitch in the frame, but the key play was a harrowing and scary one, as Nicolet second baseman Aaron Westling drifted out to field Mike Fischer's sky-high pop fly in short right.
The bases were loaded at the time, and with two out, the runners were moving at the crack of the bat. Westling seemed to have a bead on the ball, but lost it at the last second. The spinning ball caromed off the heel of his glove and popped him hard in both his nose and his eye as it skidded towards the rightfield foul line.
All three runs scored for the Warhawks and the game was delayed for several minutes while the training staff helped Westling. He eventually got up under his own power, holding a large ice pack to his face.
"We don't know how bad it is yet," said Sykes afterward. Warhawk infielder Jordan Infield finished off the inning with an RBI single to make it 8-4 Germantown. It was only the second hit of the frame for the Warhawks.
Things looked even better for Germantown in the fourth, as Eric Jordan hammered a mammoth three-run home run off Herrick over the 371-foot sign in dead centerfield to give the Warhawks an 11-4 advantage.
But the Knights did not fold their tents just yet.
"I just told the guys that we had to stay together and battle as as team," said Huntsinger. "We can't look at ourselves as individuals in a situation like that. All 14 of us have to stay together."
And that they did. The rally began in the fifth as the top of the order came through for the Knights. Huntsinger had an RBI single to get things started and Ben Rinehart a run-scoring groundout to close the frame, but in between D. J. Peltz really got Nicolet back into the game with a ringing bases-loaded, bases-clearing double to right-centerfield.
It was 11-9 at that point. In the meantime, Herrick started settling down for the Knights, putting down nine of the last 10 batters he faced, including six strikeouts.
Nicolet tied the score in the top of the sixth, and this time it was the Warhawks turn to lend a hand, as a critical two-out error off a ball hit by Peltz allowed two runs to score, tieing things up at 11-all.
"We didn't finish the inning or the game," Germantown coach Parrish Wagner said. "We make that play, we still go into the seventh with the lead."
But the Warhawks could not hold back the flood that was Huntsinger and the Knights in the seventh. Two singles and two walks gave Nicolet a 12-11 lead when Huntsinger stepped up to the plate with the bases juiced.
He hit a towering drive down the leftfield line that had home run length but was ruled foul. No matter, just a couple of pitches later he cracked his deciding blast to leftcenter that cleared the wall by a good 10-to-15 feet.
Herrick then put down the side in order in the seventh to finish things off.
"I think a win like this shows how strong we can be when we stay together," Huntsinger said. "If we stay together we can come back from anything. Battle and stay together as one."
Meanwhile, Wagner, who pulled his troops into centerfield for a quick huddle before the usual post-game exchange of handshakes, is getting tired of what is becoming a recurring theme.
"We can't finish games, or we don't know how to finish games," he said. "We make a critical error at a bad time and the momentum shifts. We need to play the seventh inning the same way as any other inning. Somebody needs to step up and make a play." He estimates that Germantown has lost seven or eight games where it has had at least a two-run lead.
Meanwhile, Sykes breathed a sigh of relief.
"It was good to see us not lose heart," he said.
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