When asked of their philosophies of baseball, one cites the movie "Moneyball," the other a famous "Saturday Night Live" skit.
They both wear their hearts on their sleeves and both would go to the ends of the earth for their kids. They both bring young, fast-moving children of their own to their games and endlessly thank their patient, loving wives for putting up with the endless hours they spend on the diamond.
One is also an athletic director and the other a wrestling coach.
Above all, neither is afraid to take chances when it comes to making a run at the WIAA State Tournament.
So when Oak Creek coach Scott Holler ("Sabermetrics," WAR and the ever busy athletic director's job) and Homestead coach Ernie Millard ("Baseball's been very, very good to me" and the sweaty, knuckle-busting grappling job) bring their baseball teams to Kapco Park in Mequon on Friday, July 25, for a WIAA State Tournament semifinal at 12:05 p.m., expect creativity, emotion and excitement in abundance.
"Honestly, this sounds crazy, but it's hard not to love the romance of the game," Holler said. "It's a game of highs and lows, and all it does is give you an opportunity. It gives both teams the same opportunity."
"I believe in small ball and fundamental execution," Millard said, "and above all I believe that high school baseball is supposed to be fun. I also believe in treating the opponent with respect ... I like to think I don't take myself too seriously. All I am is a high school baseball coach."
They're two of the best around.
Holler has led the Greater Metro Conference regular season co-champion Knights (24-9) to two WIAA state titles, the last over Germantown in 2012, while Millard has willed the Highlanders (25-7) to six state tournament berths, including a championship in 1994 and a still disappointing loss in the title game to Oak Creek and a very young Tony Butler in 2003.
Though they love the game and all that it stands for, neither is above turning conventional strategy on its head. Injuries and inexperience led Holler to turn his pitching staff upside-down, saving his ace Jesse Sustachek for the sectional final game against Greendale and knowing full well that by doing that he opened up the Knights to an early tourney exit with less-than-their-best pitcher.
"We didn't come here (to the WIAA tourney) to win just one game," has been his mantra all along.
And now look where the Knights are.
Meanwhile, Millard just shakes his head at the fact that the Highlanders are at state to begin with, having lost all but a few innings of his pitching to graduation last season ("I don't have an ace," he said, laughing).
But what he does have is a series of kids who can throw strikes and keep the team in games.
Sophomore Eric Skaar was hammered for four runs in the first inning of the Highlanders' eventual 10-8 sectional semifinal win over Menomonee Falls on July 21. Millard pulled him early in the second frame, but seeing as Homestead had to use four different pitchers in the Falls victory, Millard still had enough faith to ask Skaar to start the sectional final against North Shore champ Whitefish Bay.
Four innings of one-run ball in an eventual 10-4 victory validated Millard's faith.
Millard, in his career, has called for a straight steal of home 25 times. It has been a successful gambit 22 times, including once in a win over Germantown this year. Holler, in the sectional final win over Greendale, had his guys lay down not one, but two successful, two-out squeeze bunts in a row.
Chutzpah — these guys are dripping with it, and it rolls over onto their players who play with joy and exuberance. Oak Creek almost didn't make it out of the regional July 18, rallying from a 6-0 deficit against West Allis Hale to win 14-8.
When asked if he would remember that game for a while, Knights' all-everything shortstop Doran Turchin just laughed and said "Oh yes, absolutely."
Meanwhile, Highlander Mitch Sutton exuded his coach's "never-say-die" attitude.
"All year long, we felt as a team that we had something special going on," he said.
Both coaches know they and their teams have lived on the razor's edge for a long time now, but they're not afraid to go back out there again.
"You can hate this game one day and absolutely love it the next," Holler said. "... I see us very much as an Oakland 'A's type of team. The whole 'MoneyBall' ideal of using every bit of analysis possible to find a way to beat your opponent."
"We've found so many different ways to win that this is simply unbelievable," Millard said. "... I tell my parents I know I'm not good enough to get your son a D1 scholarship, but I hope they leave here having had a great time and thinking that they've been treated fairly."
Athletes, parents and fans get that and a lot more from both of these guys.
WIAA STATE BASEBALL TOURNAMENT
Kapco Park, Concordia Campus, Mequon
Friday, July 25
Homestead (25-7) vs. Oak Creek (24-9), 12:05 p.m.
Plymouth (28-4) vs. Brookfield Central (27-6), 30 minutes after first game
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