After finishing third at the Class 2A state baseball tournament last spring, the Freeburg Midgets were promoted.
It wasn’t a promotion they necessarily looked forward to, since they now will be competing in the Class 3A playoffs this spring.
“It’s not very enjoyable, especially when you’re the smallest 3A school,” said Freeburg coach Drew Gericke, whose team returns plenty of experience from the 30-9 state tourney qualifier. “We’re going to look at it and turn it into a challenge for our kids. I was told we made the cut by two kids. We’re the smallest 3A school in the state.
“Making it that far in state and not being able to get the success you wanted leaves a bad taste in your mouth. You always want more.”
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The Midgets’ return several of their top hitters led by junior first-team All-Area slugger Keegan Baxmeyer (.421, 14 doubles, four homers, 41 RBIs) at catcher, first-team All-Area outfielder Cody Siebenberger (.446, 11 doubles, one homer, 11 RBIs, 43 runs scored), second baseman Ty Dill (.407, 10 RBIs) and senior outfielder Derricke Rozycke (.386, seven doubles, two triples, 31 RBIs).
The Midgets lost their top two pitchers to the college ranks in News-Democrat Small-School Player of the Year Nick Yung (McKendree) and All-Area right-hander Milton Pinkston (Southwestern Illinois).
Returning pitchers are Luke Yaekel (4-1, 2.12 ERA), Joe Wolf, Elias Czech, Brennan Dermody and Austin Sweet, with Siebenberger also ready to contribute on the mound.
Ross Keleher and Michael Smith (.286, six RBIs) will see time in the infield, with junior Ray Meng in the outfield.
Here’s a look at some of the area’s other 3A and 4A teams:
Granite City: Like Alton, Granite City boasts a wealth of returning experience but will have to compete in the annually loaded Southwestern Conference under first-year head coach Scott Smallie.
Senior outfielder and Ole Miss recruit D.J. Miller (.389, 13 doubles, two triples, one homer, 16 RBIs) and senior Bruce Drennan (.431, eight doubles, two homers, 34 RBIs) heads the Warriors’ returning cast, but the potent bat of former Granite City star Chad Spanberger - now at Arkansas - will be sorely missed.
Senior Ryan Steen (.366, two homers, 12 RBIs) has signed with Lewis & Clark whilesenior David Pulley (.265, six RBIs) and juniors Gabe Jarman and Jake Freivogel (.225, 13 RBIs) also return.
Waterloo: Missouri State pitching recruit Tyler McAlister is a 6-foot-4 junior right-hander who consistently throws in the 85-88 mph range, according to Waterloo coach Mark Vogel.
“He had some arm problems as a sophomore and didn’t pitch for us at all last year, but came up and played third base,” Vogel said of McAlister, who attracted a lot of attention over the summer pitching for the Rawlings Tigers travel team. “He really turned a lot of heads this with summer with velocity and two or three pitches he can throw for strikes.”
Junior Cole Milam shows promise as a potential closer with Eric Kaiser also in the bullpen.
Sophomore middle infielder Kane Osterhage was impressive in his varsity debut as a freshman, hitting .405 in 37 at-bats with three doubles and four RBIs. Also returning are senior Iowa Wesleyaan recruit and middle infielder Christian Schmidt (.279, two homers, 14 RBIs), senior Ryan Aycock (.303, six doubles, 13 RBIs) and Brett Degener (.275, six doubles, 10 RBIs).
* Collinsville returns senior catcher Dylan McEwen (.283, eight RBIs), senior second baseman Mitch Reising (.320, five doubles, 10 RBIs) and senior outfielders Ryan Hoffman (.250, nine RBIs) and Aaron Ortiz.
* Columbia’s top returnee is Zach Mathews (.295, seven doubles, one homer, 20 RBIs), who signed with St. Louis Community College. Also back for the Eagles are pitcher Brendan Wilhelm (3-3, 4.24 ERA), Jacob Hill (.247, 20 RBIs), Patrick McDermott (.243, 12 RBIs) and Cameron Touchette (.390, seven RBIs).
* Triad’s prospects include catcher Nick Rosenthal (.330, four doubles, 19 RBIs), first baseman Will Mauer (.319, one homer, 14 RBIs) and pitchers Drew Travis (1-2, 4.01 ERA) and Danny Ratulowski (3-3, 5.03 ERA). Nate Funk (.321, five RBIs) and Cole Witzig (.240, 11 RBIs) also return in the lineup for the Knights.
Alton (22-15): The area’s top player coming into the preseason is Bryan Hudson, Alton’s 6-foot-7 left-hander who signed with Missouri. Many area coaches feel Hudson could be selected high in the upcoming Major League Draft.
Hudson is the fourth-ranked senior in the state by PrepBaseballReport.com. The hard-throwing lefty was 9-5 last spring with a 1.28 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings. He also hit .327 with 12 doubles, five home runs and 33 RBIs and should be a force to help Alton contend for a regional title and more after the Redbirds lost a 1-0 game to Edwardsville in the 2014 regional final.
Senior outfielder Matt Hopkins (.355, six doubles, one homer, 20 RBIs) is headed to the Air Force Academy, while the Redbirds picked up a talented transfer from Marquette in senior pitcher-infielder Carter Hayden (3-2, 3.72 ERA; .367 as a hitter).
Position players returning include sophomore shortstop Steven Nguyen (.404, three doubles, 10 RBIs), junior outfielder Aaron Bonnell (.343, two homers, 19 RBIs), senior second baseman Jacob Skrabacz (.281, eight RBIs) and junior first baseman Jacob Kanallakan (.239, one homer, 21 RBIs) along with senior Drake Hampton (.263, 19 RBIs).
Returning pitchers include Hudson, senior Ben Cusac (3-0, 1.38 ERA), Hopkins (3-3, 2.28 ERA) and junior Nick Cauley (3-6, 5.30 ERA)