Homestead wasn’t always at the forefront in the conversation among dangerous 2017 summer baseball teams. But the Highlanders closed the regular season on a 13-game winning streak, including three straight shutouts heading into the WIAA postseason.

Once 5-9, the Highlanders finished the year 20-10. With a playoff opener against Brown Deer on July 11, HHS was heavily favored to advance into a July 12 meeting against either Port Washington or West Bend East.

“We’re all playing with confidence,” said junior shortstop Bradley Woldt. “Pitchers feel like the defense is a lot stronger than it was at the beginning of the year, and they just throw strikes and let the fielders do their job to get outs.”

Woldt has been a key piece of that puzzle. A standout football player for Homestead, Woldt seriously considered forgoing the baseball season to focus on his primary sport.

“My dad talked me back into playing,” Woldt said. “The last day to turn in the paperwork was kind of the day I made the decision to come out and play. I was borderline.”

That proved to be a big decision for Homestead, especially after Woldt shook off the rust of playing the position, a spot where he’s well versed, though he didn't see the field much as a sophomore.

“We were really struggling defensively, and he just took over at shortstop,” Homestead coach Ernie Millard said. “It took a while for him to round into shape. He was really thinking about spending his summer doing (football). Interestingly enough, everybody – including (football) coach (Dave) Keel – thought it would be best for him to play baseball because he’s a great player, he loves it, and it’s good to do different things, good to be diverse in what you do in your sport. He’s been hitting, too. He hit a two-run homer (July 7) for us. He’s been batting in the four hole, and he wasn’t at the beginning of the season, and that solidified our lineup offensively.”

Woldt, a running back and linebacker who played a huge role for the football squad that reached Level 3 of the playoffs last year and won the latest in a long line of Homestead conference titles, already has two offers on the table to play in college, but he’s still surveying his options. In the meantime, he also ran track, and now he’s paying dividends on the diamond for the Highlanders. Millard said he attributes the team’s drop in walks to pitchers feeling more emboldened to pitch to contact.

Several others have stood out for HHS.

“Austin Jeffery has three complete game shutouts for us in conference,” Millard said. “Cole Destefanis has been really good in the leadoff spot for us, a very good hitter and outstanding aggressive baserunner. Dylan Moser has done really well in left field for us; the outfield has been really good. We haven’t yet totally put it together offensively. In this run, Ben Price goes 4 for 4 and then the next day, Eric Zoeller comes up with three big hits. Time is getting late, but if we find a way in the playoffs to get everybody firing on all cylinders, we can be really dangerous.”

Homestead tied for third in the conference at 12-6. Included in the 13-game run was a 3-2 win over Germantown that may have catalyzed a newfound confidence.

“Before that game started, I said this is the most excited for a game I’ve been all year. You can tell kids were thinking we can win some of these games. It’s no longer, ‘Can you play a good baseball game? … It’s, ‘Can you play consistently?’ and then we turned around against Nicolet and won, 6-0, which was a really big win for us, too, because we’d lost 2-1 earlier in the year to them. Their pitching staff is really good.”

Homestead’s win over West Bend East on July 3, 8-4, lends another dose of confidence to a possible playoff meeting with the Suns, and Homestead is also 2-0 against Port Washington despite a close shave the second time around, 7-6. Homestead closed the week with a 5-0 win over West Allis Central on July 7 and back-to-back shutouts against Wauwatosa West on July 8.