FORT DODGE – The No. 1 ranked North Linn softball team has 24 wins this season, and just three of those have been by less than six runs.
Their offensive prowess showed on Wednesday night as they cracked five balls over the fence of Veterans Diamond off of two Northeast pitchers to hand Northeast their third loss of the season, 10-1.
“We took them seven,” Northeast head coach Travis Eversmeyer said. “A lot of teams haven’t done that.”
The Rebels, who are making the school’s first ever state softball appearance, will play on Friday afternoon for third place in Class 2A.
With eighth grader Madison Kluever with pitching control, the Rebels and the Lynx were knotted even until the bottom of the third inning. Two consecutive singles off of Lynx bats scored the first run of the inning for North Linn, shooting them ahead 2-1.
The first of the five home runs was next, cranked over the centerfield wall and into fans to add to the lead. A solo dinger came two batters later, giving the Lynx a 5-1 advantage.
“Here, at state, the strike zone is a lot different,” senior catcher Bree Mangelsen said. “Once they made contact the first few times they got that momentum and knew they could just barrel up the ball and it was going to go, because Maddie is going to give them some power. It just carried.”
North Linn kicked off the fourth inning with another solo homer.
After this hit, the Rebels’ infield called time and talked to each other in the center of the field.
“We just said get back together, stay together, we’re going to work through it as best as we can together,” senior Claire Abbott said. “If we’re not together, it’s not going to happen.”
Northeast played a clean game defensively as they have all year. A few hits just seemed to land where they weren’t, including the five that went yard.
Two more runs scored in the fifth, cross home on a 2-run homer.
By the sixth inning, Alyssa Pessman was in the circle for the Rebels. Pessman walked one, and then saw the same contact that Kluever had seen from the Lynx, adding a home run to her scoreline and giving North Linn their final 10-1 lead.
The Rebels didn’t lose their momentum until the bottom of the third inning, though. The Lynx plated one run in the bottom half of the first and the Northeast offense had an answer. Alexis Ehlers drew a walk, stealing second quickly. Another walk was drawn by Valerie Spooner and the pair worked some savvy baserunning to push the Lynx into a throwing error. The throw to centerfield left Ehlers enough time to even the score.
“After the first inning, I think we had [momentum],” Claire Abbott said. “Then we just kind of fell off, I don’t know what happened. Our energy was still there, they just started really hitting the ball well.”
The Rebels kept the Lynx quiet in the second.
That was the only run to cross for Northeast on the night, leaving eight base runners stranded.
“We fell out of our game plan,”Magelsen said. “We talked about this pitcher, we knew early in the count she’d give us good pitches to hit. We had a game plan to attack the good pitches ... and I think after the first or second inning we just thought about getting the hit and finding a way. We started swinging and they didn’t turn into the hits we needed.”
Northeast struck out nine times against North Linn pitcher Abby Flanagan.
“I think the variety of pitches she has,” Claire Abbott said. “She can pitch rise ball, then a change-up, then she’d hit us with a curve ball. She hit us all over the place.”
With the chance to take home third place on Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., the Rebels have a unique position. They get to keep playing and the senior class has concrete knowledge that this will be their last game in a Northeast uniform.
“I know it’s going to be my last game, playing for the Northeast program,” Mangelsen said. “We know so much about this team ... and I think if you look at us as a program we have all those good aspects as well. If we just play inning by inning, moment by moment, we can compete with them.”
They’ll face off with Louisa-Muscatine in their final game of 2020.
“I think the day off tomorrow is going to do them real good,” Coach Eversmeyer said. “We will have a quality practice, do something fun and just be together. I don’t think we’re going to have a hangover effect because we have so many juniors and seniors. I think that our maturity will come through and they’ll battle Friday.”
TUESDAY QUARTERFINALSFORT DODGE – With a runner on third and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, it was the time for something to happen for the Northeast softball team.
Northeast and Central Springs had been tied at 4-4 for three innings in the Class 2A state quarterfinal game on Tuesday afternoon. After a one-out double from Madison Kluever and a chaotic sequence of throws and baserunning, Elizabeth Chambers was the sole runner on base with Neveah Hildebrandt up to bat.
“I was just thinking stay calm, don’t get nervous,” Hildebrandt said. “It’s not the end of the world if we don’t score because we have really good [defense] to back us up.”
Hildebrandt crushed the line drive single, letting Chambers cross home standing, immediately turning around with a huge grin with the walk-off 5-4 state win.
Immediately following the final run, head coach Travis Eversmeyer was the first one on the field, greeting Hildebrandt off first base with a hug before returning to the dugout to let the rest of the team celebrate.
“It’s just an exciting time,” Eversmeyer said. “Game winning hit, state tournament, that’s something they’ll remember the rest of their lives whether they were in the play or not.”
The Rebels were loose and calm before the first pitch and throughout the seven innings. After the game, they admitted they felt like the underdogs as they took on the school’s first ever state softball appearance. The energy in the dugout and on the field never indicated nerves along with that.
“We’re here to play softball,” senior Claire Abbott said. “We’ve done that all year, it’s just in a bigger venue than we’re used to.”
Hildebrandt had also kicked off the scoring early in the game. Very first at-bat, Hildebrandt knocked a ball over the left-center fence off of Panther pitcher Cooper Klaahsen.
“It felt great knowing that it was going to get our team going,” Hildebrandt said. “One of the big things about our team is that once we start getting those hits, we just keep going and keep going.”
That same inning, Claire Abbott drew a walk that turned into a run off of a double from Makenna McDonald to give the Rebels a 2-0 lead.
Abbott had a stellar night at the plate as well, dominating the small ball for Northeast. After her first walk, she bunted twice successfully, one of them scoring a run in the third inning.
“When we need it [small ball], it’s there,” Abbott said. “It’s something we can always count on.”
The third inning run was part of a comeback effort the Rebels faced after falling behind 4-2. Abbott’s saceifice was followed the next inning by a solo dinger from senior Audrey Morris to tie everything up at 4-4.
Not surprisingly, defense was a key for the Rebels from the start. First contact of the game tipped off of pitcher Madison Kluever’s glove but was snagged by short stop Alexis Ehlers. Ehlers turned the play for the out, which kicked off an impressive defensive effort throughout the whole game.
“It was exciting,” Ehlers said. “There were a lot of emotions going through my head. I was pumped, I couldn’t believe it just happened, but after that I really settled in. The first play was under my belt and we were good to go.”
The outfield was sent a lot of balls of the bats of the Panthers, leaving Makenna McDonald, Neveah Hildebrandt and Kayelee Hansen on their toes the entire contest. They made several key outs, and when hits did find the grass they turned them back fast to avoid giving up extra bases.
The defense helped the Rebels stay out of more trouble. The Panthers put a base runner on every single inning, leaving Kluever and the Rebels in charge of finishing the outs with no extra runs allowed.
“A big this we preach to Maddie [Kluever], especially being as young as she is, is that she doesn’t have to strike everyone out,” Ehlers said. “We got her. I think that’s a big thing. We know we’re there behind her back and we have to stand to that.”
That rolled right into the seventh inning. The Panthers placed two runner on base, both drawing walks from the pitches of Kluever. From the dugout, Coach Eversmeyer was calling out the team’s mantra: E + R = O. That’s Event + Response = Outcome.
The Rebels responses, Kluever working batters until a pop fly ended the inning to give Northeast their last at-bat.
‘They’ve known since Day 1 that we’ve been preaching that. We’ve made it a really important part of our program to focus on the mental side,” Eversmeyer said. “It let’s them know that their mind has to be right, clear the clutter, make some plays.”