PEORIA — Former Freeburg High School baseball coach Fred Blumberg guided the Midgets to a state baseball championship back in 1989.
With a chance to watch one of his former players win one as a coach, Blumberg made the drive to Peoria on Saturday and was rewarded when Gibault knocked off Putnam County 6-2 to win the Class 1A state title.
Gibault coach Andy Skaer played for Blumberg at Freeburg and later was an assistant coach with the Midgets.
Blumberg choked back some tears watching Skaer and his players celebrating their state title victory on the field.
"It's sort of emotional, really," Blumberg said. "He's a detailed guy. Maybe that's from being a math teacher, I don't know. But he really knows the game well and I was just glad to be here.
"He was a very loyal assistant and volunteered. I'm very happy for him."
Gibault's winning pitcher Zach Neff admitted to coming up with a celebration strategy with catcher Ryley Wallin, who drove in three runs and hit a two-run homer in the championship game.
"That was awesome," said Wallin, who ended up with the final out in his glove when Neff struck out Putnam County's Jake Kasperski. "Me and Neff had it planned out that once I caught it, we'd jump on each other. This is huge, this is everything. I've never even dreamed of this."
Gibault shortstop Wes Degener admitted the entire feeling after the final out was a bit surreal.
"I had chills all up and down my body," Degener said. "When we took the lead, everybody was confident. That (home run by Wallin) completely changed the game for us and we just went from there."
Fish out of water
A little known fact about the state champion Hawks is that pitcher Austin Beccue, who tossed six innings of one-hit ball in the semifinal win Friday, is also an accomplished competitive swimmer.
In the pool since he was 3, Beccue has qualified for the YMCA national championships the past four years and has won five state championships. He also is a 10-time state qualifier in YMCA swimming.
The state championship was the first in baseball for Gibault, which had never even reached the state's final four teams before this season.
Gibault won three straight boys state soccer championships from 2006-08 and has made eight state tourney trips in that sport.
The Hawks' boys basketball team and the boys and girls soccer teams each have finished second in the state and the girls volleyball team finished fourth.
A metro-east tradition
Gibault brought home the metro-east's first state baseball title since Highland won the 3A title in 2008. Columbia won the second of its two Class A state titles in 2007. Edwardsville won the 1990 and 1998 Class AA titles.
One of the area's most impressive runs was when Cahokia Conference teams Marissa, Columbia and Freeburg won state baseball championships from 1986-89, with Dupo adding another in 1996.
Althoff won a state title in 1991, Carlyle was the 1981 Class A state champ, with Collinsville winning Class AA in 1980 and also bringing home a state title in 1941.
New Athens won the 1979 Class A state title after finishing second in 1978 and Granite City won it all in 1948.
Belleville Township High won four state baseball titles between 1940 and 1954, before the district was split into two schools.
Marquette won Class A state baseball titles in 1980 and 1984.
Putnam County also had its best finish at state and the Panthers tried to find a positive despite being the runner-up.
"It hurts now, but in a couple of days we'll know what we did," said Putnam County shortstop Xavier Warren, a Kaskaskia College recruit whose RBI triple tied the game 2-2 in the sixth. "It'll be on a banner in the school for the rest of our lives. Our name will be on that trophy for the rest of our lives. We can come back to the school whenever we want and see that we won that trophy."