The Waterloo Bulldogs had already seen them three times earlier in the season, so Highland coach Joel Hawkins threw something unfamilier at them -- senior left-hander Pete Baumgartner.
Making just his fourth start of the season, Baumgartner held Waterloo to two unearned runs through five-plus innings to help give Highland a 9-5 win in a Class 3A Salem Sectional baseball semifinal Wednesday.
Highland (24-10) will face Mount Vernon — a 1-0 winner over Effingham in the other semifinal — for the sectional title Saturday at 11 a.m.
Baumgartner got the start that otherwise might have gone to innings-eater Grant Geppers, whose 11 starts is tops on the team. But a rainout in the regional championship game Saturday allowed Hawkins to use his ace Monday, and thrust capable understudies into action.
Senior Tyler Kimmle finished the game on the mound for Highland.
"This is the fourth time we played them, so I was thinking 'who in the world do I throw at them?'" Hawkins said. "Grant couldn't help because he just threw the other day. We thought the combination of Pete and Tyler was our best chance."
Baumgartner lasted through the first batter he faced in the fifth. He scattered five hits, struck out three, walked two and Waterloo touched him for only two unearned runs in the first inning.
"I didn't have my fastball tonight for whatever reason — I think it was nerves — so I came with my slider. That came out to be a plus pitch, but normally it's my fastball that's my plus pitch."
Kimmle gave up a run in the fifth and two more in the seventh as Waterloo rallied late.
Both pitchers benefited from clutch defensive plays.
Highland held onto a 4-2 lead in the third, when Baumgartner put Waterloo leadoff hitter Christian Schmidt on with a walk. Ben Mauer crushed a rising liner into centerfield, but was robbed of extra bases on a diving catch by Andrew Winning.
"An unbelievable catch," Hawkins said.
Highland added a run in the third, but Waterloo threatened once again in the bottom of the fourth when Hayden Bender reached on a walk and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Bender rounded third hard on a single by Mauer, but left fielder Will Greenwald gunned him down at the plate to end the inning.
"That kid is money," Hawkins said of Greenwald. "He does that a lot."
Still trailing by three in the fifth, Waterloo put two on with no out when Mauer and Kane Osterhage led off with singles. But Highland catcher Matt Augustin picked Mauer off second base.
"That was huge because that might have been the front of something, too," said Hawkins. "When you get something like that you kind feel like you're lucky. Plays like that bailed us out."
Augustin said he and shortstop Cody Bentlage were on the same page on the pickoff play.
"The first pitch of the at bat, the batter squared around then pulled back," Augustin said. "I noticed then that he got a little too far off the base. The shortstop and I looked at each other and we've played together a long time. We both just knew."
Highland's hitters gave Baumgartner and Kimmle a lift, too, with four runs on four hits in the first inning. Jordan Smith got the big hit of the inning — a bases-loaded double. They scratched out a run in the third and rallied again with four in the sixth.
Greenwald and designated hitter Sam Greene each had RBI hits in the sixth inning. Kimmle also scored as part of a double steal.
Waterloo starter Noah Thaggard was strong after struggling in the first. In all, he allowed five runs on five hits while striking out three.
Waterloo's season ends at 24-13.
"As poorly as we did in other aspects of the game tonight, we really swung the bats well and were one guy away from bringing the tying run to the plate. Factor in all the other things we didn't do well, to be at that point, it says a lot about the character of our kids. For our younger guys, that's valuable experience."
Game at a Glance
Starting pitching: Highland's Pete Baumgartner (2-1) lasted through one batter in the fifth in just his fourth start of the season. He allowed two runs, both unearned, on five hits while striking out three and walking two. Waterloo starter Noah Thaggard (LP, 5-4) allowed six earned runs on five hits, striking out three and walking three, in five and a third innings.
Highland first: The Bulldogs loaded the bases on hits by Will Greenwald and Grant Geppert and a walk to Andrew Winning. Jordan Smith slashed a double into the right field corner to score Greenwald and Geppert. Winning scored on a ground out by Matt Augustin. Then designated hitter Sam Greene singled up the middle to push Augustin across the plate. HIGHLAND 4, WATERLOO 0
Waterloo first: Kane Osterhage led off with a single and Ryan Aycock followed by beating out a sacrifice bunt. But an attempt to force Aycock out at first was overthrown and a second throw to get the lead runner bounced past the third baseman, allowing Osterhage to score the unearned run. Aycock went to third on a ground out and scored on an infield single by Noah Thaggard. HIGHLAND 4, WATERLOO 2
Highland third: Geppert and Winning led off with singles and advanced into scoring position by a sacrifice bunt from Smith. Geppert scored on a ground ball out by Matt Augustin. HIGHLAND 5, WATERLOO 2
Waterloo third: Ben Maurer and Osterhage led off with hits. Maurer was picked off second by Augustin, the Highland catcher. But Erik Kaiser doubled off Highland relief pitcher Tyler Kimmle to drive Osterhage home. HIGHLAND 5, WATERLOO 3
Waterlook sixth: Augustin got a one out single, advanced to second when Waterloo reliever Cole Kaiping as called for a balk. He scored on a single up the middle by Sam Greene. Greene advanced to second on a groundout and scored on a single to right by Greenwald. Kimmle, who had earlier walked advanced to third on Greenwald's single and scored on a double steal. Cody Bentlage drove a line-drive single into center to plate Greenwald. HIGHLAND 9, WATERLOO 3
Waterloo seventh: Osterhage led off with a single and Kaiser drew a one-out walk. Both scored on a single by Kaiping. HIGHLAND 9, WATERLOO 5
RECORDS: Highland (24-10), Waterloo (25-12).