COLUMBIA — Neither the wet weather nor the pressure of pitching in the playoffs seemed to bother Waterloo junior pitcher Austin Nunnery.
Nunnery gave up six hits, while striking out eight in leading the Bulldogs past the Freeburg Midgets 5-1 on Thursday in the Class 3A Columbia Baseball Regional.
"Our strength all year has been our pitching and our defense, and it showed up again today,'' Waterloo coach Mark Vogel said. "Austin Nunnery, every time he takes the mound he gives us a chance to win.
"He's not overpowering, but he throws three pitches for strikes and if you can do that at this level, you're going to win more than you lose.''
Nunnery used his curveball and his changeup to keep the Freeburg hitters off balance.
"The changeup and the curveball were working,'' Nunnery said. "The changeup kind of died a little bit at the end, but the curveball stayed true the whole time.''
It rained throughout pregame warmups and intermittently during the game.
"The ball was slippery,'' Nunnery said. "Just about every inning, I had to get a new baseball.''
The Bulldogs (24-10) advance to play the Mascoutah Indians (20-14) at 11 a.m. Saturday in the championship game of the Columbia Regional.
The schools spilt their two Mississippi Valley Conference games this season.
"We know each other pretty well,'' Vogel said. "Our conference is loaded every year, and it was really balanced and really competitive this year. I don't expect anything different this Saturday. It's going to be a good ballgame.''
The Midgets ended their season at 20-15. They had the misfortune of hitting some balls hard, but right to Waterloo defenders.
Nathan Fritz led off the game with a hard liner that Waterloo center fielder Ethan Ruff was able to snare.
"I give him credit,'' Freeburg coach Drew Gericke said of Nunnery. "He kept us off balance, but I'm not going to take anything away from our kids either. We hit a lot of balls hard. We hit a lot of line drives that their outfielders tracked down and caught, or we hit them right at them.
"When Nathan ripped that first one, I thought we were going to have a good day, but we hit more right at them.''
The Bulldogs staked Nunnery to a quick lead as Reid Hoffman doubled home Alex Wittenauer and Zach Schaab in the first inning.
Wittenauer and Schaab had reached base on back-to-back singles off Freeburg junior starter Dylan Demond.
"It's always nice to score early, but especially in playoff games,'' Vogel said. "It kind of jump starts you and gets you going a little bit. That was a big hit by Reid to give us two runs early, and Austin made it stand up.''
Nunnery was grateful for the early run support.
"That's a great feeling to know you have one run to win on, and the second run is insurance,'' Nunnery said.
The Bulldogs added a run in the third inning.
After Austin Campbell singled with one out, Gericke brought in junior Milton Pinkston in relief of Demond.
"I knew with him that he was either going to have it or not early,'' Gericke said of Demond. "I had a quick hook in mind bringing in Pinkston. Both of them have had great years. Demond had done some great pitching against some of the toughest teams on our schedule. That's why he was out there. It just didn't work out for him.''
Jonny Albers singled to left field and Ruff moved the runners to second and third with a grounder to the pitcher.
Alex Wittenauer drove in Campbell with an infield single.
The Midgets got their run in the third on single by Fritz that got past the right fielder and an RBI single by Cody Sibenberger.
The Bulldogs added two unearned runs in the fifth on a walk by Schaab, a single by Hoffman and a throwing error on the third baseman.
Nunnery gave up only one hit over the final three innings.
"We've seen Freeburg enough that we know they really swing the bats, they are really aggressive early in the count,'' Vogel said. "He did a good job of mixing pitches and changes speed. That's what you have to do against a team like Freeburg because they really hit the fastball pretty well.''
The Midgets will lose five seniors to graduation.
"I think we have around 10 juniors and I had two sophomores in the lineup tonight,'' Gericke said. "We have some players to work with. I'm losing one pitcher out of that group, so the pitching is going to be back.
"We still have a lot of growing up to do, but hopefully going from junior to senior, there is going to be a big payoff.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.