Maybe the Illinois High School Association has a sense of humor.
That would be one explanation for how so many top teams wound up competing in the Class 2A Nashville Regional, where four of the five clubs could make a strong argument for being a No. 1 seed at this regional or any other.
"It's kind of a perfect storm and for us all to end up together, it's going to make for an interesting regional," said Althoff coach Brett Isaacs, whose 23-7 team has won five straight. "You're probably not going to find a deeper Class 2A regional in the state."
Nashville (30-3) is the No. 1 seed in a regional that also includes 2A heavyweights Freeburg (25-8) and Althoff (23-7), defending Class 1A state champion Gibault (20-10) and Dupo (10-16).
While the IHSA likes to use geography as a primary reason for assigning teams to regionals, Gibault --located in Waterloo --is 50 miles from Nashville.
Dupo is 58 miles away and Althoff will travel 45 miles to reach the regional.
"It's not that there's four really good teams there, because I assumed going into the season we were probably going to be with Freeburg and Gibault," Isaacs said. "They try to keep it on geography, then when you look at the mileage between the schools and where we're all headed, it doesn't make sense."
That being said, all the coaches look forward to some intense competition.
"In this area, the baseball's so good it's hard to avoid a good regional to be honest," Isaacs said. "I see four really good teams and they're all very similar, too. They all have quality pitching, good hitting and really what stands out for me is they're all kind of senior-led and these kids have had success in other sports, too."
Tops-seeded Nashville will be playing at home with a senior-dominant lineup that includes some familiar faces from the Hornets' second-place team at the Class 2A state basketball tournament.
The top hitter is senior catcher Jordan Harre, but the Hornets have plenty of threats with Kaskaskia College recruits and pitcher-infielders Keegan Anderson and Hunter Beetley, and another Kaskaskia recruit in outfielder Bryce Styninger. Kyle Jasper and Christian Spenner add more talent and depth to one of the region's strongest squads.
Freeburg has won five straight and 12 of its last 14 games, nine of its last 11 games. The Midgets have the hitting and pitching depth to challenge any team here.
Freeburg meet Althoff in the semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
The Midgets' loaded lineup includes Cody Siebenberger (.475, nine doubles, one homer, 13 RBIs, 37 runs), impressive sophomore Keegan Baxmeyer (.435, 10 doubles, three homers, 33 RBIs) and Ty Dill (.432, seven RBIs).
There's more offensive firepower with Derricke Rozycke (.385, four doubles, two triples, 25 RBIs), Kile Bailey (.340, nine doubles, one homer, 22 RBIs), Chris Smith (.351, eight doubles, two homers, 22 RBIs) and Nick Yung (.338, six doubles, one homer, 25 RBIs).
Yung is 5-0 on the mound with a 1.24 ERA and Milton Pinkston is 3-2 with a 0.92 ERA.
With so much talent there are no guarantees here, not even for the defending state champs. Because of IHSA bylaws Gibault had to move up from 1A to 2A after winning the state title last season.
The Hawks are seeded fourth among the five teams and will face No. 5 Dupo at 4 p.m. Monday in Waterloo. The winner will take on top-seeded Nashville on Wednesday.
"We're not really defending state champs in my view," said Gibault coach Andy Skaer, who has the bulk of his lineup intact from the state title team led by Austin Peay recruit Zach Neff (7-3, 2.84 ERA, 85 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings) and Lindenwood-St. Charles recruit Wes Degener (.505, six doubles, five triples, two homers, 26 RBIs). "We have to go out and prove ourselves all over again. We're obviously in a very tough regional and even though we've had a successful season again, we're not the top dogs."
Gibault lost to Freeburg (11-6) and Nashville (11-8) and beat Althoff (8-6).
The Hawks' potent offense has heated up down the stretch and is led by Degener, sophomore slugger Jordan McFarland (.435, seven doubles, three triples, six homers, 38 RBIs), Chase Dugan (.396, four doubles, 12 RBIs) and Knox College recruit Auggie Ward (.389, eight doubles, five triples, two homers, 31 RBIs).
Neff heads a pitching staff that includes Ward (3-4, 5.03 ERA) and Webster University recruit Austin Beccue (1-2, 5.73 ERA).
Althoff's offense has improved down the stretch with some hot hitters in Sam Haudrich (.396, six RBIs, 35 runs), Luke Frazier (.388, nine doubles, one homer, 20 RBIs), Grant Strieker (.367, four doubles, one homer, 21 RBIs, Collin McClellan (.348, six doubles, two triples, one homer, 23 RBIs) and Eric Mertens (.317, eight doubles, two homers, 21 RBIs).
Austin Keen (6-1, 2.53 ERA), Ben Hankammer (5-1, 1.70 ERA) and Tyler Schmid (6-2, 3.53 ERA) are Althoff's top three starting pitchers.
Dupo's top run producers are Joey Mirabal (.391, four doubles, two triples, 17 RBIs), Brett Aldridge (.333, five doubles, six RBIs) and Austin Francis (.254, four doubles, one homer, 22 RBIs).
Corey Biggs (4-6, 2.27 ERA) has been the Tigers' top pitcher.