No one could wipe the smile off Jake Steinle's face. His late game heroics incited a mob of Comets to jump on his back, forcing deep stains on his jersey that will are likely to dust off easier than the momentum the Comets feel after their 3-2 win over Wheaton Thursday night.
Hillcrest was coming off a tough game against Pelican Rapids, where an early deficit kept the Comets underwater despite great late-game pitching and some good hitting. As the Comets brushed the dust of that loss off their bags Thursday, a new feeling was forging in the dugout.
In taking the field Hillcrest looked for a 1-2-3 inning to right their course. With Junior ace Sean McGuire on the mound, the Comets looked to make quick work of the first few innings on defense. So when Wheaton put a run on the board after an error at first base, allowing a runner to round the bases through a steal and two singles, fans braced for a repeat of Tuesday where the Comets fell to Pelican Rapids. But the Comet bats were there to right their mistake and bolster their ace's confidence.
Senior Jordan Foss was the first to score for Hillcrest, cracking a double in the bottom of the second to get his teammates to hang their arms on the dugout fence. After shaking dust from the bottom of his pant legs, Jordan took a sizable lead at second base. He's quick, and confident, on the base path.
Foss' lead looked cocky to Wheaton, who pulled a dangerous pick-off attempt that allowed Jordan to stroll into third base where he was 90 feet from tying the score. Up-and-coming lefty Sam Ihrke stepped back into the box after watching Jordan take three steps from third base. Sam looked Jordan in the eyes before taking his signs from Head Coach Steve Undseth. With a simple base hit that reached the grass, Ihrke rounded first base to the right, high-fiving Assistant Coach Erick Benjamin Sede as Foss joined his teammates at the dugout fence and McGuire slapped his hands and grabbed his glove. Confidence permeated from the dugout.
When McGuire took the mound in the top of the third it was basically a new ball game. The score was tied. The costly error in the first inning was behind them. Hillcrest was back on track.
When McGuire traded his glove for his bat in the third inning he looked to help his cause. With an effortless swing McGuire found the sweet spot on the bat and placed a high flying ball to the Warrior outfield. With Wheaton chasing the ball McGuire rounded the bases at full speed. When the dust settled the Comets had another player 90 feet from home with another underclassmen stepping into the box.
Nick Foss looked over his shoulder to Undseth to get the signs. With McGuire in the foreground, Foss tipped his cap and stepped into the box. Nick is a small ball expert, so Undseth's call was easy. Nick waited for the perfect pitch and tapped a perfect bunt down the first base line. McGuire darted home with the crack of the bat and Foss smiled as the Warriors only play was the out at first base. The Comets tagged a 2-1 lead to the box score with McGuire's sprint home.
McGuire settled in and set down the Warriors from the mound for the next few frames. When he left the mound for the day, Sean allowed a meager 5 hits and 2 unearned runs. He sent 7 Warriors to their dugout shaking their heads. The 7 strikeouts showed McGuire to be too much for the Warrior bats.
The Warriors tied the game in 5th on a passed ball after leading off the inning with a triple. The score looked to demoralize the Comets a little, after McGuire struck out two batters following the triple before the passed ball allowed Wheaton to tie the game. There were a number of situations like this for McGuire on the night. He pitched out of tight spots, leaving Wheaton with 8 scoring opportunities. "Sean had to dig deep and make some huge pitches with runners in scoring position in nearly every inning," noted Coach Undseth following the game.
With the score tied in the bottom of the 7th inning, Hillcrest looked to capitalize on a lead off walk by Jordan Foss. Foss took another sizable lead at first, earning him second base. When Reggie Undseth looked to third base for his sign from his dad it was a simple call most knew he would get. Undseth was called to sacrifice to move Foss to third. But an errant throw by Wheaton hit Undseth, putting Comets at first and second with no outs.
The Comets looked to execute a sacrifice fly on the next at bat, but it popped out to first for the first out. With a double-play threatening the inning, Jake Steinle stepped into the box. Looking to do anything but hit into an inning ending double-play, Steinle gripped his bat and found a pitch he like. The crack of the bat caused some fans to close their eyes. When the ball was finally spotted it was a simple dot on the grass in the outfield. Steinle placed a blooper to center field and barely made it to first base before his teammates rushed him in celebration.
The win puts the Comets in strong place to win the conference, moving them to 5-2 against regional opponents. They have a decisive game against Brandon-Evansville on Monday, May 9 at Legion Field at 5pm.