GOOSE LAKE – The Northeast softball team didn't express any signs of panic after falling behind in the most important game of the year Wednesday night.
In fact, the Rebels showed quite the opposite despite the absence of an experienced senior on the roster.
Northeast abruptly erased a one-run deficit in the third inning with a combined 11 runs in its next two at-bats to sink Cascade 11-1 (5 innings) in a Class 2A Regional quarterfinal in Goose Lake.
"I'm just really pumped that this young team didn't panic when we fell behind," Northeast coach Travis Eversmeyer said.
The red-hot Rebels entered the contest victors over a pair of state-ranked opponents in their last two outings, seemingly playing their best softball of the season at the most opportune time.
Northeast's recent surge has hinged primarily on a robust offensive attack, demonstrated by outbursts of 10 or more runs in five of its last seven contests.
"We knew it was only a matter of time [Wednesday night] because we have been hitting the ball really well the last week and a half and beat some good teams," Eversmeyer said.
Kayelee Hansen opened the pivotal third with a sharp single and Alexis Ehlers moved her over with a sacrifice bunt. Then it was on. Neveah Hildebrandt roped a run-scoring single, Bree Mangelsen hit a two-RBI double and Valerie Spooner executed a squeeze play to plate another runner to extend the Rebels' lead to 5-1.
Abby Bower punctuated the inning with an RBI hit of her own.
Northeast, who can also spray the ball across the yard, turned to tactical bunts and swiping extra bases in critical moments. A prime example developed on Spooner's bunt, as pinch-runner Madison Tarr scored from third and Makenna McDonald advanced all the way to third from first on the play.
Those are the plays that can shift the outcome of a postseason game – and the Rebels capitalized Wednesday night.
"It's huge," Eversmeyer said of playing the small-ball game. "You can't expect to just out-slug people, we know down the road we are going to see some power pitchers and we have to be ready, put the ball in play and put pressure on people."
Northeast slammed the door shut in the fourth inning with five more runs to activate the 10-run rule, as Hildebrandt sparked the frame with her sixth homer of the season and Spooner and Audrey Morris connected for RBI hits to fuel the rally.
Alyssa Pessman pitched all five innings for the Rebels, as Eversmeyer pivoted from the team's primary pitcher, Alexis Ehlers, who has thrown 126 1/3 innings this season. Pessman entered with 47 2/3 innings.
The coach said the decision revolved around "feel" and acknowledged that the Northeast defense is most complete when Ehlers is anchoring the infield at shortstop.
Pessman shined in the circle, allowing only one run and scattering five hits. The junior also worked out of a pair of Cascade rallies in both of the first two innings.
"It's just a feel right now," Eversmeyer said. "Alexis [Ehlers] is a heck of a shortstop and when Pessman doesn't walk people, she is really tough. We have arguably our best defense on the field when Pessman is pitching so that is the thought process."
Mangelsen led the way with three hits and Hildebrandt followed with two.
The Rebels will advance to the regional semifinal and take on the winner of North Cedar and Beckman Friday night in Dyersville.