With six of nine starters having been in the lineup for three or four years, the Carlyle Indians have been pointing toward this season for some time.
"From day one we set pretty high standards for ourselves," said Carlyle coach Dusty Barr, whose 24-7 club takes on Nashville (25-9-1) in a 4:30 p.m. semifinal game Thursday at the Class 2A Nashville Sectional. "One of the things we talked about was competing better daily and we'll have our best games when it truly, truly matters. It seems like we're ascending to our best baseball at the right time."
With deep pitching, solid defense and timely hitting, the Indians have all the ingredients for a lengthy postseason run.
They allowed just one run in two games while wining the Althoff Regional, knocking off Althoff 6-1 and Mater Dei 1-0.
Carlyle has four solid starters, but Barr indicated he will send Logan Zachry (5-1, 1.13 ERA) to the mound on Thursday with Cody Huels (6-3, 1.18 ERA) available in relief if needed.
Nashville also has a pair of aces in Keegan Anderson (9-2, 0.40 ERA) and Dylan Fullerton (10-2, 0.65 ERA).
Murphysboro and Du Quoin meet in the other semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Carlyle's four-year starters are McKendree University recruits Tyson Boehne (.381, 12 doubles, 18 RBIs) and Kyle Jackson (.340, nine doubles, 19 RBIs) and Huels.
Three-year starters include Matt Hilmes 3 year starter (.366, nine doubles, three triples, two homers, 28 RBIs; 5-1, 1.75 ERA), John Becker (.306, nine doubles, two triples, four homers, 24 RBIs; 3-1, 2.37 ERA), Cody Jackson and Zachry.
"The nice thing about this team is we've been able to win both ways," Barr said. "We've won where we've come out and mashed in the first inning and left very little doubt and we've done it where it's come down to the last inning. We are prepared for both scenarios.
"Our preaching point all year has been pitching and defense first, because in my opinion those are the two things you can control."
Nashville failed to win the regional last spring despite having one of its best senior groups in years. The Hornets came through this time and now get a chance to play at home with a lineup led by Hunter Beetley (.361, 11 doubles, 31 RBIs), Austin Wuebbles (.381, nine doubles, 27 RBIs) and Jordan Harre (.352, 12 doubles, 25 RBIs).
"We feel pretty fortunate that our kids didn't give up early in the season when they were struggling," Nashville coach Chad Malawy said. "I think we steal some wins from teams because we do a lot of little thing right and that has given us a chance to win late in games."
It doesn't hurt to have two pitchers like Anderson and Fullerton, either.