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Latest baseball title anything but routine

©2003 Homer Index

by Mike Warner


When you've won seven district titles in nine years, adding an eighth may seem routine. But Homer's district title Saturday was anything but routine. The final against Quincy was a statement game for the program. The entire district competition for Homer was filled with upper class leadership, freshmen heroics and gutsy coaching strategy.

Homer battled its way into Saturday's regionals by defeating Bronson 7-4 and Quincy 5-3. Homer has long since broken the school record for wins in a season, and now boasts an impressive 30-3 record.

To get to the regionals, Homer had to outlast a stubborn Bronson nine and defeat Quincy for the third time this season, with the district championship coming on the Orioles' home field, and in their third base dugout. " We just willed our way to this title," coach Scott Salow said.

The juniors and seniors in this group have not had a lot of postseason success in recent memory. Many had been part of the basketball team that had posted three outstanding regular seasons, but bowed out in the first game of districts. In baseball last year, the same Quincy squad blasted the Trojans 13-2 in the district opener, despite Homer being the Big Eight Conference champion.

" It was definitely a statement game for our program," Salow said of the nail-biting victory over Quincy. "These guys want to go out on a high note. I'm very appreciative of their efforts."

Homer opened district action against Bronson, a team with a sub-.500 record. Salow knew he had either Quincy or Union City waiting in the championship game - both teams on paper much tougher than Bronson - so he decided to save ace pitcher Josh Collmenter for the finals. Instead he gave the ball to freshman Dusty Compton.

Compton's teammates staked him to a 2-0 lead after their first at bat.

Senior Graig Brooks started the inning with a single. Freshman CJ Finch was safe on a bunt single and Collmenter sacrificed the runners up a base. Matt Powers scored one run with a single and Compton knocked in another run with an infield hit.

Compton got off to a shaky start in the bottom of the first inning, as he was rocked for three runs. He gave up a pair of walks and hit another batter in the inning. The Vikings added a pair of hits into the mix to plate the trio of runs.

" I started second guessing myself a little at that point," Salow admitted in trusting the game to a freshman. "I knew a split wouldn't do us any good, so we rolled the dice. After the first inning, Dusty settled down and pitched a whale of a game. For a freshman, that was a gutsy effort."

Down 3-2 in the second, Homer quickly got the lead back for Compton. Tyler Butler singled and went to second on a bunt by Dan Holcomb. Dale Cornstubble was safe on an error, putting runners on first and third. Brooks doubled in one run and Cornstubble scored on a grounder by Finch.

Compton gave up a harmless double in the second and a single in the third, before retiring 12 hitters in a row.

Homer added three runs to their cushion in the fifth, as Finch singled, Powers walked and Compton doubled home a run. Ryan Thurston added a two-run double to make it 7-3. Bronson scored its final run in the seventh inning.

Brooks had three hits to pace Homer. Finch, Compton and Thurston each had a pair of hits.

Quincy thriller

Every time the Orioles and Trojans square off, it seems the game goes down to the final out, and this was no exception.

Collmenter, now 13-0, wasn't sharp, as he gave up six hits and walked eight batters on a cold, windy afternoon. Collmenter's wildness cost him early, as he walked three batters with two outs. After a hard ground ball got under the glove of Finch at second, the Orioles led 2-0.

Homer got one run back in the bottom of the first off Dominic Lopez, as Powers knocked in a run with a ground out, following two walks and a sacrifice bunt.

The Trojans took a 3-2 lead in the second, as Brooks singled in a run after two more Lopez walks. Cornstubble scored the second run of the inning from third base on a double steal, crossing the plate while the runner on first occupied the Orioles in a rundown between first and second base.

The game stayed 3-2 until the top of the fifth, when Quincy tied the score. Collmenter walked in the tying run with the bases loaded, after allowing a single and two bases on balls.

The sixth inning proved to be the crucial one in the game. With runners on first and second and one out, Thurston made a diving catch in left field, preventing at least one run from scoring. After a wild pitch moved runners up to second and third, Salow elected to walk catcher Tim George to load the bases and face Jon Beach, who had relieved Lopez on the mound. The gutsy strategy paid off, as Collmenter struck Beach out on a 2-2 pitch.

Homer took that momentum into their turn at the plate in the bottom of the sixth and turned it into a pair of runs. After a strikeout, Butler was safe on an infield hit. He was balked to second and Holcomb drew a walk. A pair of freshmen then came up huge, as Cornstubble singled in a run and Finch doubled home another, making it 5-3.

The Orioles weren't done, however, as they put the tying runs on first and second with one out in the seventh. Collmenter put a chill on any Oriole hopes for a rally by picking the lead runner off second base. The Quincy coaching staff pleaded for a balk to be called on Collmenter, but the umpires weren't buying it. A meek pop-up to second base a moment later ended the game.

Collmenter was thankful to get away with the win on a day he didn't possess his normal sharpness on the mound.

" My arm didn't feel as good as it usually does," he said. "I knew I had to battle through it, and I was confident if we got the lead we could hold them off."

Both Collmenter and Salow were quick to credit Thurston for diving to catch a ball that was drifting back toward the infield due to the strong winds.

" I saw the ball heading toward the gap, then I saw Ryan get to it,"Collmenter said. "He made an excellent catch, the kind a pitcher loves to see. It's great to know as a pitcher that you don't have to strike everyone out, that your fielders are going to make plays behind you."

Thurston said the wind was playing tricks with the ball.

" I thought it was going faster than it was," he described. "Then it got held up in the wind and I over ran it, and had to dive back. In my mind, I knew I had to catch it."

" To see a freshman lay out like that and make a great catch is wonderful to see," Salow commented. "Here's a kid playing out of position all year. He was always an infielder. And he's the hottest hitter on the team right now."

Homer opens Saturday's regional at Michigan Center at 10 a.m. against Big Eight opponent Reading, a team Homer has defeated twice this year. Should they win, the Trojans would advance to the title game against the winner of the noon contest between Stockbridge and Manchester.

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