FAIRFIELD — One could forgive the 10th-ranked Fairfield for being a little bit overconfident heading into their fifth meeting of the year with Keokuk.
Four wins by 10 runs or more would certainly give the Trojans plenty of reason to feel they could handle the Chiefs heading into Saturday's Class 4A, Region 4 semifinal.
Keokuk, however, proved for almost six full inning on Saturday that everyone truly starts over when the postseason arrives. Fairfield trailed most of the game and were still tied at 5-5 entering the bottom of the sixth before scoring seventh runs in the decisive inning to pull out a 12-5 victory, finishing off a fifth straight win over the Chiefs while returning to the Class 4A regional championship round for the fourth straight year.
"You tell from the start that (Keokuk's) energy was high and ours was a little lacking at the start," Fairfield sophomore Emersyn Manley said. "I'm not sure we were ready for that amount of energy, or that amount of runs to be scored, right out of the gate."
During the regular season, Keokuk scored just three runs in four losses to the Trojans. On Saturday, Keokuk scored three runs in the very first inning as a three hits, including a run-scoring double by Jayden Scott, put the Chiefs stunningly in front 3-0.
Both teams traded goose eggs on the scoreboard until Fairfield tied the contest with three runs in the bottom of the third inning. Coty Engle laid down a bunt for a base hit to start the rally.
Following a sacrifice bunt by Delaney Breen, Hannah Simpson and Peyton McCabe both reached on Keokuk errors. Manley's run-scoring single would completely erase Fairfield's deficit.
"I knew our team could do. We just needed to get our energy up and our attitudes in the right place," Manley said. "We have the ability to be an amazing team. We just need to pull it all together."
Keokuk would take the lead in the top of the fifth as they notched two more runs as a deep fly ball was misplayed in the outfield, allowing the Chiefs to score a pair of unearned runs. Fairfield again rallied in the bottom of the fifth as Manley led off with a single, stole two bases and scored on an error pulling the Trojans within 5-4.
The Chiefs allowed the tying run to reach on a second error in the fifth. McCabe tied the score again, driving in Danielle Breen to tie the game at 5-5 with two outs.
After setting down Keokuk (8-26) in the top of the sixth in the pitching circle, Engle helped Fairfield finally take the lead for the first time with a hit following a one-out walk to Savannah Hollander. Delaney Breen reached on a fielder's choice to load the bases, setting up Simpson for a tiebreaking two-run double to right that finally gave the Trojans a lead to work with.
"It's always good to have a player up who is hitting .460 on the year and has been a four-year starter in the situation," noted Fairfield head coach Bob Bradfield.
With the aid of four errors by the Keokuk defense, the Trojans scored five more runs after taking a 7-5 lead. Keokuk put two runners on in the seventh before Hollander snagged a liner at third and tagged out a runner for an unassisted, game-ending double play.
"We may have come into this thinking it would just be another game with Keokuk, but Keokuk really showed us who they are in this one," Manley said. "I think it was good to see that. We all knew we had each other's back. That's what is really important going forward. If someone fell, we picked them up the next play."
Fairfield (25-12) will either host Grinnell or play at third-ranked Carlisle on Tuesday in the 4A, Region 4 championship game. Grinnell and Carlisle meet Monday night in a game that, like many around the state, was rained out on Saturday.
"As we have played Carlisle, we do know that Carlisle likes to put a lot of pressure on the defense, utilizing the bunt, the slug bunt, along with aggressive base running," assessed Bradfield.
Courier senior sports writer Scott Jackson contributed to this story