NASHVILLE — Freeburg right-hander Milton Pinkston saw the finish line Thursday and had trouble slowing down in the seventh inning of a tight regional game with Althoff.
Althoff got the tying runs on base, but Pinkston got a mound visit from coach Drew Gericke and settled down enough to strike out the final two hitters in a 5-3 semifinal win at the Class 2A Nashville Regional.
"He's a motor and the amps are running high all the time," Gericke said of Pinkston (5-2), who allowed four hits and finished the game with five straight shutout innings. "Sometimes you've got to put the brakes on him a little bit to calm him down. His motor is 100 miles an hour, but I like that about him. He's a competitor."
Freeburg (26-8) also got a two-run homer from Kile Bailey in the first inning and a solo blast from Keegan Baxmeyer in the sixth to reach the regional championship.
"My nerves caught on, that's for sure," said Pinkston, who began the day with a 0.84 ERA. "The more zeros that went up there, the more hyped up I got. I just relied on my defense to pull me through it. The big sticks in the lineup really did the job today."
The Midgets have won six straight and face the top-seeded Nashville Hornets (31-3) at 11 a.m. Saturday. Freeburg beat Nashville 4-3 way back on March 29 in a game Gericke said was played in "blizzard conditions."
After Althoff (23-8) scored three runs in the first two innings, Pinkston settled in and began slicing his way through the Crusaders' lineup. Althoff had only two hits over the final five innings and one was Sam Haudrich's bunt single leading off the top of the seventh.
Pinkston retired Austin Keen on a fly ball to right in the seventh, then walked Collin McClellan to put runners at first and second.
Pinkston seemed to be working quicker and quicker and his pitches kept sailing higher and higher. Gericke's visit seemed to have a calming effect, especially after Pinkston nailed down the victory by striking out Luke Frazier and Grant Strieker for the final outs.
"I give a lot of credit to their pitcher," Althoff coach Brett Isaacs said. "I thought Pinkston was really good, especially after the second inning. He kind of locked in and made it awfully tough on our hitters. Once you get behind late in a game in postseason it just adds to the pressure. That's kind of the way it went."
Especially early in the game, it seemed like the Crusaders were poised to have a breakout inning with Pinkston struggling to find control.
"Just like that last inning, that kind of epitomized that game," Isaacs said. "He was able to wiggle in and out of trouble and kind of squash us at every turn."
Althoff broke on top in the top of the first when Haudrich walked and came around to score on a wild pitch
The lead didn't last long as Bailey jumped on a pitch from Keen (6-2) and sent it rocketing over the fence in left-center for a two-run homer.
That lead didn't last long either as Althoff came back with two runs in the top of the second. Keen ripped an RBI single to center with runners at second and third and Haudrich came around to score a second run when the center fielder had trouble fielding the ball cleanly.
Freeburg threatened again in the second, but Keen got some help from his infielders with a quickly turned 4-6-3 double play.
The Midgets broke through for two runs in the fifth on a pair of two-out, RBI singles by Cody Siebenberger and Chris Smith.
Baxmeyer created some breathing room when the sophomore catcher crushed a solo homer to center leading off the sixth inning. That gave him a team-leading four homers and 35 RBIs.
Gericke played for Hall of Fame coach Fred Blumberg at Freeburg. The Midgets won a state title in 1989 and finished second in 2002, but have won only one regional (2010) since 2006.
"That is a while and the tradition of Freeburg baseball was a big discussion at the beginning of this year," Gericke said. "We wanted to bring that back and 26 wins certainly helps, but Freeburg, I think, was built on championships that (former coach) Fred Blumberg built.
"It just shows the fight of this ballclub and it starts with the group of seniors I have. They want a championship themselves because they haven't had one in four years."