MOUNT PLEASANT — For three games this season, Mount Pleasant High School pitcher Sydni Coleman had Fairfield's number.
In a game that was the biggest of the season for both teams, the Trojans finally put a big number on Coleman.
Fairfield was served by its youth, as eighth-grader Peyton McCabe drove in five runs and freshman Jenna Norris drove in four as the Trojans erupted for a 12-4 win over the Panthers in Saturday's Class 4A regional semifinal at the Mapleleaf Athletic Complex.
The Trojans (22-18) face third-ranked North Scott (25-14) in Tuesday's regional final in Eldridge. It's the Trojans' seventh consecutive regional final appearance.
"We really wanted to jump on the first pitch because the first one she throws is right down the middle," said Norris, whose bases-loaded double in the sixth inning broke the game open. "She's tough to hit, but we just stayed back and waited for our pitch."
"It was one of those things where we had to keep the pressure on," McCabe said. "We saw how they reacted when they got the lead early, and it was like they won the game."
Indeed, when Anni Liechty hit a two-run home run in the first inning to help the Panthers (23-13) take a 3-2 lead, it might have sunk team like Fairfield that is driven by youth. All along, however, Trojans coach Bob Bradfield has seen a team not easily fazed.
"One thing is that our girls are pretty good for their age. They're just not afraid of very much," he said. "Maybe they're not old enough to be that way, but they've seen a lot of good softball for a long time."
Fairfield opened the scoring in the first on an RBI single by Coty Engle and sacrifice fly by McCabe. Though the Trojans' offense went silent after that, it was evident Fairfield was hitting the ball hard.
It came to a head in the fifth as both McCabe and Destiny Gridley singled hard to left field to drive in runs as the Trojans took a 5-3 lead.
Fairfield then scored five two-out runs in the sixth. Coleman issued back-to-back walks with the bases loaded to McCabe and Gridley, and had McCabe down 0-2 before she fought off a few pitches and worked the walk. Norris then doubled to the fence in center field to score Hannah Simpson, McCabe and Gridley to make it 10-3.
"I could kind of see her getting down after the walks, and I was hoping I could capitalize there," Norris said. "We're a line-drive hitting team. That's how we like to hit."
McCabe drove in two more runs in the seventh on a single to left, and the Trojans finished with 12 hits, easily the most in any of the three matchups against Coleman.
"All along I felt like we could hit her better than what we were showing," Bradfield said. "We just couldn't string any of those hits together. Tonight was a good night to finally do that."
Engle had three hits for the Trojans, who overcame a six walks by pitcher Allison Rebling. Rebling, who also struck out nine, worked out of some trouble throughout the game but was solid enough to keep the team in the game until the offense took off.
"I think we had a good, positive attitude, and we kept our intensity up," Norris said. "We never got down on ourselves."
"We played really well tonight, but one thing we're doing (as younger players) is that we're playing like this is no big deal," McCabe said. "That keeps us loose."
The Trojans will face a tall order against the Lancers, who beat them 11-0 at a tournament in Iowa City in late May.
"We're know they're really good," Bradfield said. "Everyone thinks North Scott is the better team, and they've been ranked all year. We just have to go and play. I really expect these kids to be ready."
"I'm so excited about it," Norris said. "We just have to play our game, do our best and hope for the best."
Chad Drury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @ChadDrury