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The start has been encouraging for the Homestead baseball team, as the Highlanders, as of June 14, were sitting atop the North Shore Conference standings.

But now veteran coach Ernie Millard and the rest of the team will have to see how they react to a bit of adversity.

'We took a really big hit,' said Millard. 'Rick West, a first-year senior and our second or third pitcher and third baseman, broke his finger against Cedarburg (on June 10). He's an awesome kid, and he's going to be missed a lot.'

Millard will try to find a replacement through a large base of seniors (currently eight of them start). They will try to keep the 7-1 in league and 11-3 overall record moving along.

He is building around five senior co-captains, including catcher Brooks Ralph, who in Millard's long history of excellent backstops, he said, may be the best defensive performer yet. Other co-captains include centerfielder Sean Driscoll, leftfielder Matt Wade, first baseman Ryan Cho and pitcher Zach Binversie.

Other starters include senior Alec Tomkiewicz, junior Eric Zoeller and junior Cole Destefanis rotating at second base; senior Tyler Woldt at shortstop; Destefanis and junior Joe Panella at third base; Wade and senior Jake Bruner in left; and senior Sam Brink in right.

In light of the injury to West, the pitching staff includes Panella, who has been the team's top pitcher so far, Tomkiewicz, Binversie, Woldt and junior Dylan Moser.

'Our defense has been really solid,' Millard said, 'but our hitting has been really inconsistent. We were hoping that it would be a strength. It's starting to come around, but it's still a little slow yet.'

The conference race is enormously tight and entertaining. The Highlanders maintained their lead in the North Shore with an 8-3 win over Grafton on June 13. Homestead has scored 27 combined runs in its last three wins. They will have a big game at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16, at preseason favorite West Bend West.

Millard said how the pitching responds without West will be interesting to watch.

'Our team ERA is still really good,' he said. 'We have really good pitching depth , but it could be a concern with Rick's (West) loss. This is going to be a really interesting conference race.'