Placing two of the top Cahokia Conference teams into an already tough Class 3A Columbia Regional should create an even higher atmosphere of intensity.
Top-seeded Columbia and No. 3 seed Freeburg will be making their first postseason venture into a regional typically inhabited by Mississippi Valley Conference teams and a few others on a rotating basis.
"Whoever gets hot and gets on a roll ... anyone can win the darned thing," said Waterloo coach Mark Vogel, whose team's 22-9 record was only good enough for a No. 2 seed thanks to a regular-season loss to top-seeded Columbia (22-10). "I can't remember a regional in the last few years that's been so balanced.
"I do believe that (No. 4 seed) Mascoutah has the best pitching and the deepest pitching in the regional. All the top four seeds have not consistently played good baseball, we've all played real well at some point in time and at other points been inconsistent."
Columbia has faded a bit after a 17-3 run to start the season. However, the Eagles have the talent to compete for their first regional title since winning the 2007 Class A state championship.
Columbia's top two run-producers are Rhodes College recruit Brendan DePoy (.567, 22 doubles, four homers, 34 RBIs) and Evan Dake (.389, eight doubles, three homers, 28 RBIs).
DePoy's 22 doubles lead the entire St. Louis-area.
Reed Greatting (.340, 12 doubles, 14 RBIs), Austin Floarke (.333, 16 RBIs), Camren Shewfelt (.330, 15 RBIs) and Cole Mallinckrodt (.314, 14 RBIs) also are hitting over .300.
Greatting (7-2, 3.82 ERA), Josh Fleming (3-2, 176 ERA), Blake Meyer (4-4, 4.52 ERA) and Floarke (5-1, 2.25 ERA) are the top pitchers.
Columbia has recent wins over Belleville West and Mascoutah, lost 2-1 to Class 4A heavyweight Alton and knocked off Waterloo 7-2 in the lone head-to-head meeting with its Monroe County rival.
Since a 14-7 loss to MVC rival Triad on April 22, Waterloo is 12-3. The Bulldogs own wins over O'Fallon, Edwardsville, Belleville East and Belleville West as well as MVC co-champ Highland.
Vogel said Jeremy Rettig (6-2, 1.88 ERA) and Austin Nunnery (3-4, 3.32 ERA) have been Waterloo's top pitchers, along with Taylor Brumfield (6-0, 1.06 ERA).
Waterloo's top hitter has been outfielder Ethan Ruff (.440, 19 RBIs), while Zach Schaab (.323, 16 RBIs), Reid Hoffmann (.312, two homers, 13 RBIs) and Logan Mueth (311, 16 RBIs) have been hot at one time or another.
"That's our big weakness," Vogel said of his team's inability to produce consistent offense. "I can't remember a team that's been more streaky offensively, both individually and as a group."
Freeburg (19-14) has offensive standouts in Nathan Fritz (.344, 10 doubles, 12 RBIs), Nick Yung (.340, 14 doubles, 27 RBIs), plus more solid run producers in Derrick Rozycke (.313, 15 RBIs), James Hogan (.309, two homers, 12 RBIs), Chris Smith (.301, 10 doubles, 17 RBIs) and Austin Caravia (.269, two homers, 18 RBIs).
Mascoutah (19-14) may not have an easy first-round matchup if Cahokia (6-17) throws ace Tim Nicholson (3-4, 2.79 ERA) as expected. Nicholson has a live fastball and keeps the Comanches in games with his bat as well (.297, six doubles, 17 RBIs).
Mascoutah's regional championship hopes likely rest on the strong arms of junior Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit Ryan Netemeyer (5-1, 1.96 ERA) and talented senior Zach Lindsay (4-4, 1.95 ERA).
Offensively, the Indians rely on Netemeyer (.337, 13 doubles, two homers, 21 RBIs), Rob Pearson (.367, 13 RBIs), Brendan Dauber (.363, eight doubles, 16 RBIs), Lindsay (.341, six doubles, 13 RBIs) and Maciek Milas (.337, 11 RBIs).
Triad (22-11) finished fourth at the Class 3A state tournament last season and had some easier games outside of the regional once the Knights survived a 7-6 thriller against MVC rival Highland.
The teams have met in the last two regional championships (Triad winning 7-6 and 10-3) and this could be another sequel considering the talent possessed by both clubs.
Highland (24-8) has the top seed and one of the region's top players in Eastern Illinois University recruit Jake Haberer.
Haberer may be having the best season by an Highland player since 2008, when Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi's bat and pitching arm helped lead the Bulldogs to the state title and got him drafted in the first round by Milwaukee.
Haberer is hitting .528 with 11 doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 43 RBIs, 48 runs scored and five stolen bases. He's equally effective on the mound, going 6-0 with a 1.95 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.
Joel Mason (.407, 12 RBIs, 39 runs), Joseph Duncan (.382, seven doubles, two homers, 35 RBIs) and rally-igniting speedster Mitch Carriger (.368, nine doubles, 28 stolen bases, 35 runs) help bolster the Highland offense.
The Bulldogs followed up a three-game losing streak by going 6-1 in their final seven regular-season games. Highland split with Triad in MVC play, winning 8-5 and losing 10-9.
Triad won seven of its final 10 regular-season games, including a 7-0 victory Saturday at Belleville West.
The most dangerous bat in the Triad lineup is owned by senior first baseman and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recruit Keaton Wright. Wright is hitting .454 with 17 doubles, six homers and 34 RBIs.
Tyler Carpenter (.388, 12 doubles, 30 RBIs), Dalton Johnson (.356, seven doubles, four homers, 23 RBIs), Lucas Criley (.342, 15 RBIs) and Cody Massey (.337, seven doubles, two homers, 28 RBIs) add more difficulty for opposing pitchers.
Triad's most effective pitchers have been Jordan Felax (8-3, 1.67 ERA), Jakob Thomas (5-2, 2.27 ERA) and Richard Boatman (4-0, 1.73 ERA).