Who stands on the mound for playoffs is one of the hardest decisions a baseball coach makes. Weighing the pros and cons through finals week drove Comet head coach Steve Undseth to throw Chris Tungseth rather than ace Sean McGuire, and Tungseth dazzled in a stunning 4-hit shutout that has Hillcrest poised for a playoff run.
Comet baseball walked a little slower to warm up in their first game after saying goodbye to many friends following Hillcrest's Memorial Day closing of the 2015-16 school year. There weren't as many fans spitting sunflower seeds and shouting during walkups to the plate in the bottom of the first inning. With parents giving support, Hillcrest managed a bases loaded threat in the first inning, working to jump out early and put their emotional graduation weekend behind them. The resolve of the Comets was inspiring.
The Comets were pinching themselves, with no outs and runners stacked around the bases. An errant pitch gave Sean McGuire an opportunity to score, and when the ball hit the backstop and rolled away from the catcher McGuire darted home and helped Hillcrest move to a 1-0 lead. The first inning score was all Hillcrest needed with Tungseth on the mound.
In what some feared might be his final game pitching in a Comet uniform, Tungseth took control of the evening. A 1-0 lead gave him confidence to stretch his legs and hurl fastballs down the pipe. His command was in rare form for a high school pitcher, hitting spots on the corner despite the plate uncharacteristically growing smaller by the men in blue as the game wore on.
With Tungseth calmly peering down to Sam Ihrke he continued to eat through Hancock's lineup. In the 3rd inning Tungseth received an insurance run after Jordan Foss reached first base on an error. After Reggie Undseth reached base with a bruise from a beaning, Foss moved to second. Tungseth moved Foss to third on a fielder's choice grounder, and with two outs Hillcrest sat with an insurance run 90 feet from home with runners at the corners.
Coach Undseth tipped his hat and clapped his hands, sending signs to home plate that Tungseth picked-up on. When the pitch left mound Tungseth leapt beyond his 3 step slide from first base. As the pitch hit the catchers mitt there was a quick glance towards first base, where the only remnant from Tungseth was his size 12 foot prints as he kicked-up dirt in an attempted double-steal. Hancock didn't bite, and Hillcrest continued the at bat with runners at second and third with two outs.
During the next series of pitches Hancock looked rattled. A miscue between Hancock's delivery men forced a pitch to the backstop. Foss darted home and forced a play at the plate between the delivery men. With the catcher quickly fielding and tossing the ball the pitcher there wasn't attention to precision in delivering the play. Foss slid in under the pitcher who's eyes followed the ball past his glove. The ball dribbled to the mound where it rolled to a stop as Tungseth rounded third base like a freight train. Tungseth crossed home plate and earned himself a 3-0 lead that he would carry through Hancock's lineup.
Tungseth frustrated Hancock consistently. He allowed 3 free passes to first base in his seven innings, striking out 8 in his dominant performance. "Chris was the difference today," noted Coach Undseth. "We were fortunate he was so sharp...Give credit to Sean, Jordan, and Chris for hustling home on those two wild pitches."
Hillcrest moves to the double-elimination portion of the Section 6A tournament. They play #1 seeded Ortonville at 2:30pm Thursday in Morris. The game promises a tough showdown with Sean McGuire expected to pitch. McGuire carries a no-hit experience versus Ortonville from last year into Thursdays game. The second game is played at 5pm wether the Comets win or lose.