PEORIA — Pleasant Plains right-hander Mitch Koehler is the type of pitcher opposing teams probably love to see warming up, then realize they still have to figure him out.
Using an array of breaking pitches that his coach described as "slow, slow and slower," Koehler shut down Freeburg on five hits Friday and Pleasant Plains scored three times in the sixth to beat the Midgets 5-2 at the Class 2A state baseball tournament.
"It's very frustrating," said Freeburg coach Drew Gericke, whose 30-9 team will play for third place at 3 p.m. Saturday at Dozer Park. "We haven't faced a pitcher like that in a long time. That pitcher isn't going to light up the radar gun and everybody say 'wow,' but you know Greg Maddux didn't either.
"It's the location of your pitches and the movement of your pitches. That's what he did."
Koehler (12-2) won't scare anyone with his velocity.
"He's not going to overpower you --slow, slow and slower," Pleasant Plains coach Dave Greer said. "What's funny is with Mitch, this happens all the time. We had a left-handed do the same thing a long time ago. It keeps people frustrated and the defense is always on its toes.
"He's a big-game pitcher. You don't have to be throwing 85 or 87 if you've got a heart and you can compete."
Pleasant Plains had 180 stolen bases before Friday and used all-out aggression to keep plenty of pressure on Freeburg pitcher Nick Yung and the Midgets' defense. The Cardinals played small ball to perfection, scoring two runs on squeeze bunts, stealing five bases and used hit-and-runs as well.
"It just took everything away," said Yung (8-1), who allowed only five hits and struck out four. "It always had us moving, the hit-and-runs screwed us up. I didn't do the best job of keeping them close and on their front foot.
"They took advantage of it and that's the key to beating us, today at least. It definitely took us by surprise. We knew what we were coming into, but they executed. It always helps when you're 90 feet closer."
Dylan Bee's leadoff double ignited the three-run sixth for Pleasant Plains. He stole third with one out and scored the go-ahead run on an RBI single to left by Alex Edwards.
Aaron Hand also singled and Zach Ross's squeeze bunt brought in another run. When a throw went to second, the Cardinals scored again and a three-run lead was more than enough for Koehler.
"I felt really relaxed," said Koehler, a junior. "I knew after the first inning we were just jittery and you're going to have nerves. After that the defense played well and got the job done."
Freeburg got two runs in the first on two Pleasant Plains errors and a two-run double by sophomore catcher Keegan Baxmeyer that dropped between three fielders into right field.
"It's tough giving up the first two in the first inning," Greer said. "It sounds silly, but it kind of put us in the game. Sometimes you get in these games and you forget they're 15 and 16 years old and they get in awe of stuff.
"I think that's just a little bit of jitters. Once they scored the two, we kind of got on some kids we motivated them a little bit. Getting that one (back in the first) was just huge, that got us more focused and relaxed."
The Cardinals cut Freeburg's lead to 2-1 in the first, then scored another run in the second on a squeeze bunt by Koehler.
Koehler and Yung both pitched well after that, but the Cardinals broke through for three runs in the sixth inning. The Midgets had trouble waiting for Koehler's deliveries and 13 of their 21 outs came on flyouts.
"I think the two hardest balls we hit were right at their outfielders when we had a runner in scoring position," Gericke said.
Freeburg sophomore Ty Dill had two hits and reached safely three times. He had a leadoff single in the sixth and was bunted to second, but the Cardinals intentionally walked Baxmeyer with two outs and Koehler retired Derrick Rozycke on a fly ball to center.
"Basically they just executed better than we did," Gericke said. "We knew they had some speed coming into this game and they used that speed to their advantage; stole some bases, put pressure on us early and we didn't handle it well.
"Then we just had one bad inning in the bottom of the sixth where it was all execution on their part."
Freeburg also got outstanding defensive plays by first baseman Kile Bailey and second baseman Brandon Fritz.
Fritz sprinted toward the outfield and hauled in a soft liner off the bat of Johnny Steinwart and doubled off Bee at second. Bailey ran far down the right field line to haul in a pop fly to end the fourth.