The Freeburg softball team's goal of winning a Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division championship still has to go through Columbia.
Eagles' sophmore Kelly Metter and senior Caitlyn Touchette sent that clear and unmistakable message Wednesday afternoon on their home diamond. Each hit a home run, scored two runs, and combined for five RBIs in a 8-4 win over Freeburg, which was previously unbeaten in conference play.
"Columbia is 23-2 for a reason and it's because they have a very solid program," said Ben Howes, now in his second year of a rebuilding effort in Freeburg. "That's where we want to get. We're trying to get our program to the point where it takes care of itself."
With the win Wednesday, Freeburg could have clinched the Mississippi Division championship outright.
Now tied at the top of the standings with 8-1 conference records, the Eagles and Midgets each have a league game remaining to decide if they'll share the crown or if one winner will take all.
"It's always the top goal to win conference," said Touchette, whose two-run blast off the scoreboard in left field added cushion to a two-run lead. "Even if it isn't ours -- even though we worked really hard for it -- the bigger picture is the postseason. That's what we work for, the postseason wins."
For Freeburg, a 17-6 record and share of the conference crown represents major growth for a program that, just two seasons ago, finished 5-19 and didn't win a single game in conference play.
"Two years ago we didn't have a conference win and last year we were 4-6. For our team to be in a place where we can share in the conference championship is an important step," said Howes. "Every team plays a different non-conference schedule so the best thing for us to base ourselves on is the teams that play in our conference."
The Midgets were in position to take control of the game after an RBI single from Cheyenne Bivins in the fourth and another from shortstop Jenny Homann in the fifth.
But Columbia came back in the bottom half of the inning when Kalli Farmer and Touchette each singled, followed by an RBI hit from Rachel Garcia to make the score 4-3.
Metter's three-run home run, her fourth of the season, dropped over the fence in left-center field and gave Columbia its first lead of the game.
"I normally wait for the pitch to go, then I see where the strike zone is. That's when I get a feel for the pitcher," said Metter. "It was right down the middle. I feel like I helped my team out when I was needed."
Touchette, one of four Columbia seniors honored before the game, clinched the win with a two-run shot off the top of the scoreboard.
"That's an unbeatable feeling to know you could do that in your last high school game at home," she said. "That's a good feeling to have and it was a big conference win."
Columbia junior Brina Rujawitz got the win in the pitcher's circle, allowing eight hits, but walking just one. Freeburg Josie Ledbetter gave up six of Columbia's 13 hits in the fifth inning alone. She also walked one and hit two.
Neither pitcher struck out a batter in the game.
The Midgets defeated Columbia earlier in the season behind freshman pitcher Miranda Schulte, who held the Eagles without an earned run. But Howes used her in a complete-game win over Central on Tuesday and plans to pitcher her against Wesclin again Thursday.
"I know they say in softball a pitcher can throw every night, but she's only a freshman too and I don't want to do anything that gets her hurt," Howes said.