DYERSVILLE – Beneath the sting of defeat, there was a comfortable air surrounding the Northeast softball team following a season-ending loss Friday night.
The Rebels, whose entire roster is set to return next season, understand a Regional semifinal berth that saw them give perennial power Beckman Catholic all they could handle is only the start for this group.
Northeast led in the fourth inning before the Blazers rallied for seven runs – all with two outs – to pull away with a 10-6 win and secure a trip to Monday night's final.
Rebels coach Travis Eversmeyer said last week he anticipated the trajectory of the team to involve a "two-year process" as a young core continued to garner varsity experience and grow as competitors.
Year One was certainly a success, as Northeast finished with a 20-14 overall record and fell one game shy of the opportunity to play for a trip to the state tournament.
"Our expectations are now way higher than they were," Eversmeyer said. "I hope they are hungry for a good offseason because with everybody back, and a good middle school program coming up, there is going to be a lot of competition."
Beckman plated two runs in a shaky first inning that chased Northeast starter Alyssa Pessman after she recorded only two outs, as the Blazers drew a pair of walks and benefited from run-scoring singles off the bats of Emily Wulfekuhle and Shea Steffen to take an early 2-0 advantage.
But Northeast roared back with four runs of its own in the third, as Neveah Hildebrandt blasted a two-run homer and Abby Boyer roped a key two-out hit to score two more runners and hoist the Rebels to a 4-2 lead.
Hildebrandt's home run marked her second in as many games and No. 7 of her sophomore campaign. Hildebrandt figures to be a critical piece of Northeast's push for playoff success next season, as she hit .542 to lead the team and the River Valley Conference (North).
"She has been swinging a hot one all year," Eversmeyer said. "She is a great kid and a product of hard work every day. She loves being there, puts in the time and gets rewarded for it."
The pivotal fourth inning began innocently, as Rebels pitcher Alexis Ehlers retired the first two batters of the inning. But the next eight Blazers reached base safely, a back-breaking span that featured three walks, three singles and two doubles.
"It was frustrating," Eversmeyer said. "We just couldn't stop the bleeding. It seemed like they would hit a couple hard then dink-and-dunk us with a blooper or slow roller and we just couldn't get the out."
Northeast battled to the end, plating two more runners in its last at-bat. After Bree Mangelsen reached on an error and Makenna McDonald singled, Valerie Spooner scored them both with a hard double to left field.
But Beckman pitcher Sydney Steffen got Boyer to bounce into a game-ending groundout.
Northeast's promising returning group features Mangelsen (jr., .456 average), Morris (jr., .456), McDonald (jr., .392) and Spooner (so., .372). The team also returns its top-two pitchers in sophomore Alexis Ehlers and junior Alyssa Pessman.
Beckman (28-13) will play Durant for the Class 2A Region 6 title Monday night.