It’s been 15 years, but the Columbia High School baseball team is making a return trip to the state tournament.
Now, the Eagles will try to repeat what the 2007 squad did and return home with the program’s third state title.
On Monday, Columbia punched its ticket to Peoria with a 15-8 victory over Cahokia Conference rival Freeburg at the Class 2A Carbondale Supersectional.
It was the third time the Eagles defeated Freeburg, the defending state champion, this spring. The Midgets ended Columbia’s campaign in the sectional final last season.
Columbia (26-7-1) will next play at 5 p.m. Friday against Joliet Catholic at Dozer Park in Peoria in the semifinals of the IHSA Class 2A state tourney.
The Eagles scored right out of the gate on Monday, but still trailed 2-1 after the first inning.
“Offensively, Kyle McConachie’s leadoff double to start the game really set the tone,” Columbia head coach Neal O’Donnell said. “We knew that we were going to have to have competitive at-bats up and down the lineup and limit our strikeouts to win the game. Fortunately, we were able to do that.”
Columbia kept the runs coming, plating five in the second inning to make a statement. That helped Eagles junior starting pitcher Dom Voegele, who allowed four unearned runs in the first two innings before settling down.
“Dom Voegele really competed on a day where he didn’t have his best stuff, but he’s such a competitor that he grinded through six innings and put us in position to win the game,” O’Donnell said.
Voegele finished with 12 strikeouts on the day. Logan Mueller, a senior, pitched the seventh inning for the Eagles.
Alex Schreckenberg, a junior, went 1-for-2 with four RBIs and Voegele went 3-for-5 with a triple and RBI to help his own cause. Lucas Riebeling, a sophomore, went 2-for-4 with three runs.
Columbia edged Freeburg twice during the regular season, 2-1 on April 14 and 7-6 on May 7.
On Saturday, the Eagles posted a 6-1 victory over Mater Dei to take the Class 2A Teutopolis Sectional title.
Riebeling, a righty, pitched six and one-third innings of one hit baseball, striking out 10. He improved to 6-0 on the season with a 0.70 ERA in 30 innings pitched.
Columbia began its scoring on a wild pitch in the first inning to go up 1-0. Mater Dei answered with a run in the bottom of the inning.
The Eagles plated three runs on three hits in the second inning, giving Riebeling some breathing room.
In the fifth inning, Jack Steckler doubled and scored to put Columbia comfortably ahead at 6-1.
Voegele came on in relief of Riebeling to record the final two outs of the contest.
Schreckenberg went 3-for-4 with an RBI and Kyle McConachie, a senior, went 1-for-4 with three RBIs for the Eagles.
Columbia opened sectional play last Wednesday with a 5-1 victory over Vandalia. A four-run sixth keyed the win, with Voegele homering and driving in three runs.
Mueller pitched a complete game with seven strikeouts.
McConachie leads Columbia in hitting this spring at .409 with 17 doubles and 42 runs.
Voegele is hitting .387 with 32 RBIs in addition to his 8-3 pitching mark and 1.80 ERA. The hard-throwing righty has 91 strikeouts in 58 and one-third innings pitched.
Schreckenberg is hitting .371 with 24 RBIs and 22 runs.
Mueller is hitting .365 with five homers and 29 RBIs in addition to his 6-0 mark on the mound and 2.88 ERA.
The Eagles travel to Peoria having gone 17-2-1 in their past 20 games.
“We are obviously super excited to compete for a state championship this coming weekend,” O’Donnell said. “I am so happy for our players and their families, especially for our four seniors.”
O’Donnell said his players have competed “like they have something to prove” all season.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming into this season with the lack of experience we had returning, but our guys have continually been up to the challenge,” he said. “Guys have stepped up all season. We played a solid game early in the season and lost to Edwardsville, 3-0, which gave us some confidence that we could compete with quality teams. But winning early in the season, 2-1, against Freeburg and following that up with a walk-off win against Breese Central proved that we were right there.”
O’Donnell hopes his team can end the season in style this weekend.
“We are two wins away from a state championship and hope that we can bring a third state championship home to Columbia,” he said.