“I’m so happy for Josh Funk.”
Those were head coach Doug Dick’s first words following Hillsboro’s 11-5 and 12-2 wins over Halstead on Friday.
After Dick had finished talking to his team, Funk’s teammates ushered the sophomore outfielder over for an interview. They wanted Funk to get some publicity for his effort.
Earlier this season, Funk was known as a light-hitting outfielder, able to field his position but destined for the bottom of the order and platoon duty with Dylan Nelson in right field. It’s a rep that Funk does not deny, but it’s one he’s about to shed. In the past two series, Funk has been swinging the bat with more confidence and has earned a more permanent spot in the lineup.
Funk broke out on Friday. In the first game, the Trojans were down 5-2 in the bottom of the fourth. Funk led off the inning with a bloop single into right field. Although he was thrown out stealing second, Funk ignited a small rally that allowed Nathan Unruh to drive in Micah Allen with a double into deep left field.
Nelson shut the door the following inning on the mound with two groundouts and a strikeout.
In the bottom half, Funk did the damage, driving in David Dick and Nelson with a hard shot down the right field line. With the score knotted at five, Funk and Jordan Faul crossed the plate following a Lucas Sinclair triple, smashed into the right-center field gap. Unruh got his second RBI in two innings with a double in almost the exact same spot to score Sinclair. Unruh scored on an error and the Trojans were suddenly up 9-5.
Relaxed with run support, Nelson did not allow another run.
Funk continued his hot hitting in the second game. He drove in Jakob Hanschu and Nelson with a double into the outfield for Hillsboro’s fourth and fifth runs. Funk reached base on his next two at bats as well, the first on a fielder’s choice as a part of a six-run third inning and the second on single past the diving Halstead shortstop.
“I don’t feel like I did anything special,” Funk said. “I saw the ball pretty well.”
“He’s come a long way,” Dick said of Funk’s improvement.
What was special was the importance of both wins for Hillsboro, something Funk had in mind during the contests. Halstead is in Hillsboro’s regional. With the sweep, the Trojans’ locked up third place behind presumptive No. 1 seed Marion and No. 2 seed Southeast of Saline. With the top two teams getting a bye, the third seed should set up a matchup with Ellsworth, which has yet to win a game this season.
Funk was not the only Trojan to hit well on Friday. With a slight lineup tweak, Sinclair had his best hitting series of the season. On top of his triple in game one, Sinclair had two hits in game two, knocking in two RBIs with the bases loaded in the third inning. He was robbed of a third hit by the Halstead second baseman, ranging out into right center field for an over the shoulder catch.
Sinclair moved up one spot in the lineup, from third to second. He was hitting in front of Unruh, who moved up from fifth to third.
“I think he likes it better than hitting third,” Dick said. “There’s something to mentally liking something.”
Unruh continued his run-producing ways with a two RBI double past a diving right fielder in the third. Although he racked up four RBIs and four runs combined in two games, Dick suspects that Unruh’s average dipped a few points. Before games on Friday, Unruh was hitting about .430.
“You know, you’d have to go about 5-for-8 to keep up,” Dick said.