Columbia senior left-hander Josh Fleming gained attention a year ago when he picked up a victory over large-school powerhouse O'Fallon.
Fleming continued to progress and now has become one of the region's most consistent starters.
He has not allowed an earned run in his last 27 innings, striking out 37 during that span while posting victories over Gibault, Red Bud, Freeburg and Wesclin.
Now 5-1 with a 1.29 ERA, the Webster University recruit has 52 strikeouts in 38 innings with three complete games in seven starts.
During his hot streak, Fleming has allowed only hit and one run --none earned -- in 27 innings. He has walked five with 37 strikeouts while beating Wesclin (5-0 Thursday), Freeburg (2-1 April 15), Red Bud (6-0 April 10) and Gibault (4-0 April 4).
Fleming has not allowed an earned run since an 11-1 loss to Teutopolis on March 29, during which he gave up six runs in five innings.
"He opened up some eyes last year," Columbia coach Keith Jany said of Fleming, 3-3 as a junior last spring with a 2.03 ERA. "He came out and early and threw a strong game against O'Fallon. Last year we didn't have much run support for him and he didn't get the 'W's, but he had the numbers.
"He's doing it against good teams, too. It's not like he's facing the weaker part of our schedule."
Jany said Fleming has refined his delivery and added a few miles per hour to his fastball.
Against Red Bud and Gibault, the defending Class 1A state champs and one of the area's top small-school teams, Fleming was a virtual machine.
He surrendered only one hit in a total of 13 combined innings in those games, striking out 20 against two walks.
"His velocity is very deceiving," Jany said. "He doesn't get in trouble a whole lot, but he seems to pitch better when he gets somebody on base."
Wesclin had won eight straight and nine of its last 10 before losing 5-0 to Fleming and the Eagles in a Cahokia Conference game Tuesday.
Fleming tossed a complete-game shutout, allowing 10 hits with 10 strikeouts.
"He's got a little bit more velocity on his fastball and he's become more of a complete pitcher," Jany said. "He's got the mentality that he wants the ball in the big games, too."
While most of the preseason Cahokia Conference talk was about Carlyle and Freeburg, Columbia and Wesclin are putting up a major challenge.
"We were listening and we were reading that stuff, too," Jany said. "These guys have worked hard and it's one of the best groups I've been around because of their work ethic. The talent is there and we've gotten a lot better since the start of the season."
Heading into Wednesday, Columbia (12-4, 4-1) and Wesclin (12-6, 4-1) were tied for first, with Carlyle (14-3, 3-2) and Freeburg (13-5, 3-2) tied for second.
Columbia is getting solid offensive production from sophomore Cameron Touchette (.422, six RBIs), senior catcher and Lewis & Clark recruit K.J. Spisak (.400, 11 RBIs), senior second baseman Quinten Spivey (.385, two triples, seven RBIs), junior shortstop Zach Mathews (.381, five doubles, 11 RBI.
Senior third baseman Camren Shewfelt (.286, 16 RBIs) and Jacob Hill (13 RBIs) are the RBI leaders.