Columbia and Freeburg have been hurtling toward a showdown at the top Cahokia Conference's Mississippi Division since the Midgets took round one on April 12.
But neither coach will concede that Wednesday's rematch means anything more than any other game in what has proven to be a balanced conference.
After Friday's win over Belleville West, Columbia improved to 18-3, its lone conference loss to Freeburg. The Midgets fell to 19-5 with a loss to spoiler Red Bud (14-10 overall) which has beaten everyone in the league but the first-place Eagles and Central.
Columbia face make-up games against Red Bud Monday and Tuesday. The second game will pick up with two out in the third inning with Red Bud leading 4-3.
"It's been a crazy kind of a year in our conference," said Columbia coach Rhonda Major. "Everybody has played well at times and it makes the conference tough."
Both sides of the conference — large school and small school — is very good up and down. Everybody can compete with anybody. Look what just happened here today, and Central beat us last time.
Ben Howes, Freeburg softball coach
That's what Freeburg coach Ben Howes said, too, after his team's surprising 10-1 dismantling of Central (17-9) Thursday.
"Both sides of the conference — large school and small school — is very good up and down," Howes said. "Everybody can compete with anybody. Look what just happened here today, and Central beat us last time."
The parity only adds to the intrigue of Wednesday's game between the Eagles and Midgets.
Columbia has in recent years been the team to beat in the conference, but with the loss of four four-year starters from last season's 25-win regional champions, it figured to be a rebuilding year.
Not so. The team runs deep through the middle of the lineup with underclassmen.
Sophomore Calli Wibbenmeyer leads the Eagles with four home runs and 25 RBIs to go with her .440 batting average. Junior Courtney Weilbacher is one of the region's leaders with a .494 average through Friday. She also has driven in 20 runs.
Freshman Lexi Touchette is second on the team in both average (.443) and RBIs (23).
Senior Kalli Farmer, who made the switch from second base to catcher this season, contributes with a .390 average and 23 RBIs. And senior Brina Rujawitz leads Columbia with 91.7 innings in the pitcher's circle. She's 12-1 with a 2.44 ERA.
I really like the way we've come together as a team and I like the way we're playing. It's like I told the girls, it's somebody different every day contributing something that helps us win.
Rhonda Major, Columbia softball coach
"The younger players have really stepped up," said Major. "I really like the way we've come together as a team and I like the way we're playing. It's like I told the girls, it's somebody different every day contributing something that helps us win. We're getting hits and big defensive plays."
Howes has ample reason to be happy with the way the Midgets are playing, too. The middle of the Freeburg lineup is just as deep.
Miranda Schulte will make a bid for player of the year for her work at the plate and from the circle. The sophomore is batting .574 through Friday, with eight home runs and 41 runs batted in. Meanwhile she's got 12 wins as a pitcher with a 1.25 ERA and averaging more than 10 strikeouts per game.
"Miranda is just a special athlete that comes around once in a lifetime," Howes said. "She was born great. She works hard, but so do the 20 other kids on my team. It's just that she has a lot of God-given talent and she maximizes it."
Schulte is backed in the order by Kimmie Hoffmann (.419, 21 RBIs), Jenny Homann (.450, 13 doubles, three home runs, 24 RBIs), Cheyenne Bivins (.382, three home runs, 25 RBIs) and Josie Ledbetter (.353, three home runs, 25 RBIs).
Wednesday's game is at Columbia starting at 4:30 p.m.
A Panther No-No
O'Fallon sophomore Katie Moore was pressed into pitching when Panther senior star Addie Barnouski went down with a back injury last week against Alton.
Though Barnouski and O'Fallon coach Kelly Paproth expressed their confidence in Moore, they couldn't have predicted the success she's had in her first two varsity starts.
Two days after beating Belleville East, 2-1, by allowing no earned runs on five hits, Moore struck out nine East St. Louis batters in a five-inning no-hitter. She would have been perfect, but for one hit batter.
The Panthers, 16-6 and winners of seven of their last eight, won the game 12-0.
Collinsville senior catcher Kassidy Smith earlier this season broke the school's career home run record and with another at Belleville West Friday, now has 29. Earlier in the game, she hit her 34th career double, breaking another Kahok record.
Through Friday, Belleville West outfielder Olivia Young had nine home runs. She needs five more to break the single season record of 13 she shares with Jenny Klotz.