Coming into Saturday, the Freeburg Midgets had 18 regional titles in their impressive baseball history.
But their 19th will always have a special meaning.
The Midgets jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Triad Knights, fell behind 5-3, rallied to tie it at 5 and then won it with a three-run bottom of the sixth inning to claim the Highland Class 3A Regional on Saturday at Glik Park.
“This is our first regional title as a Class 3A school and we are going to savor that for a few days,” said Midgets coach Drew Gericke, whose school made the jump to Class 3A in 2015. “I’ve been preaching to my kids all season, that in the postseason you are in it until the last out.
“And that’s the way this one played out. We had the lead, lost the lead, tied it and then won it with those runs in the sixth. It’s just a testament to my kids’ mental toughness.”
The Midgets’ first 18 regional crowns came as a Class A or 2A school under the direction of Fred Blumberg. Their most recent, before Saturday, came in 2014, when Gericke led Freeburg to the semifinals of the Class 2A state tournament.
With the win, Freeburg (24-9) advances to next week’s Triad Sectional where it will face the winner of the Mount Vernon Regional. Harrisburg and Olney (Richland County) will play for the title of that regional on Monday.
Senior Keegan Baxmeyer agreed the win was special.
“Being the first 3A regional Freeburg has ever won in baseball, that’s big,” said Baxmeyer, who scored two runs and had a pair of RBIs in the victory. “It’s just a whole other league of baseball.
“We’ve shown in the past we can play with these teams, but we never got a chance to do it in the postseason. So to finally be able to do it there, it makes it mean that much more.”
Triad coach Jesse Bugger was pleased with how his team battled back from its early deficit. The Knights defeated Civic Memorial (5-3) and Jerseyville (13-5) in their first two regional games before falling to Freeburg.
“We’ve grown up a lot, come from behind in all three of our (regional) games,” said Bugger, whose team bows out at 12-24. “But it seemed like we didn’t have a lot left in the tank there the last couple of innings.
“But I am awful proud of how hard we fought all week.”
Down 5-3, Freeburg got RBI doubles from Keegan Baxmeyer and Jordan Fritz to tie it in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Midgets then used some small ball to set the stage for their three-run sixth.
Lead-off hitter John Hilpert got it started lashing a single past the shortstop off pitcher Gavin Gibbs.
Landon Touchette and Ty Dill then reached on consecutive bunt singles – Gibbs may have had a play on Touchette’s bunt but had trouble picking up the ball, while Dill’s was perfectly placed to the third-base side – to load the bases.
Baxmeyer scored Hilpert when he was thrown out on a slow roller to the shortstop. Sophomore Jack Lugge followed with a hard single, this time past the shortstop, bringing home Touchette and Dill with insurance runs.
“Keegan, he’s a senior, started on our state team in 2014, and he just put a ball in play there,” said Gericke. “And Lugge, I knew he was going to put the bat on the ball.
“He’s only a sophomore and this is his first postseason experience, but he’s been a hitter for us all year long.”
Senior Elias Czech closed out the game for Freeburg, striking out the side in the top of the seventh. Czech had been on the mound when Triad scored all four of its runs — he was charged with just one — in the fifth inning.
But he retired all six batters he faced in the sixth and seventh, striking out five.
“They got a couple of bloops on him there in the fifth, give credit to them,” Gericke said. “But when he was out there with nobody on in the sixth and seventh, he pitched exactly the way we wanted him too.”
Baxmeyer helped stake Freeburg to a 2-0 lead in the second with a steal of home.
With runners on the corners, a pick-off throw from Triad pitcher Nick Peeler had caught pinch-runner Bobby Tedesco leaning away from first.
As the Knights threw to get Tedesco at second, Baxmeyer let out for home. Triad’s throw to the plate was not in time.
Tedesco ended up safe at second and scored on a Braeden Chandler double. Chandler added an RBI single in the third, making it 3-0.
Triad opened the fifth inning with three straight singles to chase Freeburg starter Will Hogan.
Two of the inning’s four runs scored when a wind-blown pop up hit by Nick Beeler eluded the Freeburg second baseman. An RBI single by Hunter Smith scored the inning’s final run, making it 5-3.
“We played much better in this tournament than I thought we would, considering where we stood a few weeks ago,” said Bugger. “We’re a very young team and I wish we could have got it done here for our five seniors.
“But I am glad we got it turned around and played like Triad, here at the end.”