With a record of 5-14 at the midway point of the season, Northeast’s season easily could have been written of and the Rebels could have been penciled in for an early postseason exit.
But the Rebels fought back, going 10-3 to close the regular season and picking up a pair of wins in the Iowa Class 2A district tournament to earn their shot at perennial powerhouse Dyersville Beckman.
For the first four innings of Saturday’s district final, the Rebels were within a couple of hits of possibly leading and pulling off a huge upset over the tradition-rich Blazers, who hail from the town known for its “Field of Dreams.”
Alas, the dream didn’t come true for the Rebels.
Beckman’s power at the plate and on the basepaths made for a nightmare ending for coach Kyle Miller’s underdog squad in a 12-4 loss to the Blazers.
Saturday’s game was the deepest postseason run for a Northeast team since 2006, when the Rebels bowed to Solon in an eight-inning district final contest. This time, it was junior pitcher Nate Steger, who belted a pair of home runs and had an effective game from the mound, who gave his team all the momentum it needed.
“I was just seeing the ball real well today, and put good swings on them and they got out,” said Steger, who went 2 for 2 with a pair of walks and three RBIs. “We’ve been hitting the ball well all season, and we’ve got a ton of speed. When we put it together we win a lot.”
Miller, whose team finished 17-18, conceded that while his team didn’t play its best ball of the season, it also didn’t beat itself with poor play.
“What can you say about a team that hit the cover off the ball?” he said. “They (Beckman) made some very nice defensive plays, and they have good baserunning. “They’re a good ballclub, and they do the little things to win.”
Seth Mommsen, the Rebels’ lone senior, agreed, noting that Beckman plays in the tough WaMaC conference. He said the Blazers’ tough schedule, against teams such as Central DeWitt and Solon, helped prepare them for tough postseason games.
“Our team got a really good taste of it, and they’re young,” he said, referring to a team that had four juniors and six freshmen on Saturday’s roster. “They’re (Northeast) going to be used to it and they’re going to be hungry (next year).”
The Rebels — themselves having a tough non-conference schedule with several Class 4A schools — gave the Blazers a battle for four innings and trailed by just three runs before Beckman’s powerful bats and baserunning took over.
A prime example came in the sixth, after Beckman’s Rob Hermsen reached on a two-out error that put runners on the corners. During Ty Troutman’s at-bat, Hermsen took off for second, and as Rebels catcher DJ Fulton threw to second, Sam Willenberg took off for home. Shortstop Tevin Stoecker tried to make the throw home but was off the mark, giving the Blazers an 8-1 lead. Hermsen, who moved to third on the error, scurried home on a wild pitch to make it 9-1.
The Blazers, who scored eight runs in the final three innings, never trailed after Steger belted a two-run, first-inning shot over the right-field fence. But the Rebels answered right back in the bottom half of the inning, starting when Stoecker and Seth Mommsen both walked.
It appeared Fulton would have an RBI single off a line drive to left, but Stoecker was thrown out at the plate on a perfect throw home by left fielder Robbie Anstoetter. Mommsen scored on Mitch Haferbier’s one-out single to right to cut the Blazers’ lead to 2-1. The Rebels could have had more, but Cole Dickey was out on a bunt attempt down the first-base line and Levi Trenkamp flied out to right.
Although they got at one least baserunner in all but the fourth inning, the Rebels didn’t mount another serious scoring threat until the seventh, and that was after the Blazers (28-15) had secured a trip to Tuesday’s substate final against North Fayette of West Union.
Steger, who also had a solo homer in the third inning, overcame a wobbly start to hold Northeast to five hits, three coming in the bottom of the seventh.
“The Steger kid settled down and threw a good ballgame toward the end,” Miller said. “They just kept adding and adding (after the fifth inning), and at that point, it just got to the point where it got away from us.”
Fulton and Haferbier each had a pair of hits to lead Northeast, which got three consolation runs in the bottom of the seventh off Blazers reliever Levi Lawrence. Steger and Ian Ross each had three hits to pace the Blazers.
Miller took time to reflect on Mommsen, who was a state qualifier in cross country and track, and also led the Rebels basketball team to a district final berth. Mommsen, who also had a 4.0 GPA during his senior year, will continue his athletic career at Wartburg College. He hit a game-winning grand slam in the district opener against North Cedar, then started a comeback win in a district semifinal win against Camanche with a two-run triple and capped it with another grand slam.
“Great kid,” the coach said. “I can’t say anything else other than that. Any parent would be proud to have that kid as their kid. It’s going to be hard to replace a kid like that and how he carries himself. He’s just a tremendous kid.
“We wouldn’t be in the district final if it wasn’t for Seth. He really has carried us this season and provided leadership when we got off to a rocky start.”
Mommsen, who also reigned as prom king this spring, reflected on his team’s early troubles before regrouping for their remarkable run.
“I didn’t have the numbers, and I was getting down on myself,” he said. “But they (his teammates) didn’t quit on me and I wasn’t going ever going to quit on them. They are the best team in the world.
“It was a great feeling,” Mommsen continued, referring to his team’s late run. “We got on a huge winning streak there and it was like the year before where we were just hitting really well and came together really solid as a team. It just came together. We hit and we were clutch at the right time and it got us here and I’m very proud of them.”
DYERSVILLE BECKMAN 12, NORTHEAST 4
Beckman 210 123 3 — 12 10 2
Northeast 100 000 4 — 4 4 2
Nate Steger, Levi Lawrence (7) and Lucas Jacque. Mitch Haferbier, Seth Mommsen (5) and DJ Fulton. WP — Steger (7-1). LP — Haferbier (7-2). Multiple hits — Beckman (Steger 3, Ian Ross 3, Jacque 2, Lawrence 2); Northeast (Fulton 2, Haferbier 2). 2B — Beckman (Jacque 2); Northeast (Fulton). HR — Beckman (Steger 2, Ross). RBIs — Beckman (Steger 3, Ross 3, Robbie Anstoetter, Sam Willenberg, Rob Hermsen); Northeast (Fulton 2, Haferbier 2).