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Members of the Peru 9-and-10-year-old softball team celebrate after rallying to beat Mendota 12-11 in the District 20 championship Tuesday at Strouss Park in Mendota. Peru completed its eight-run comeback with five runs in the bottom of the sixth. NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
MENDOTA — Dark clouds and rain may have made the 9-10-Year-Old Softball District 20 title game seem grim, but the following rainbows and inspirational play from Peru cheered up at least one sideline.
After trailing Mendota by eight runs in the top of the fourth inning of Tuesday’s championship game at Strouss Park, Peru scored 11 runs in three innings for a 12-11 comeback victory.
The remarkable run included Nos. 9-4 hitters in the lineup scoring a run in the bottom of the sixth inning without an out to give Peru the five runs needed to make the win possible.
“My mom always tells me to have confidence and I was up there with the whole game in my hands,” said Peru catcher Paige Kirkman, who hit the walk-off single. “I just hit it. I was really excited.”
Mendota kicked off the scoring in the top of the first inning when second baseman Jaelyn Fitzgerald had an RBI to score right fielder Taylor Kelly.
Another run was added in the second when Zoe Finley was walked and advanced on passed balls for a 2-0 lead.
Peru left fielder Abby Nawa scored a run in the third inning, but Mendota’s offensive onslaught made one run look minuscule as it scored four runs in the third and three in the fourth to expand the lead to 9-1.
Fitzgerald, the cleanup hitter, hit a double in both the third and fourth innings, which were followed with two of her three RBIs and runs of the game.
The No. 3 hitter, Mary Defore — who also was Mendota’s starting pitcher — and No. 6 hitter Finley also hit doubles during the stretch.
“The middle of our order was huge,” said Mendota coach John McDowell, who filled in for JoAnna Engels, who was attending classes. “Our three, four hitters were driving it to the outfield and bringing in girls. That was the whole story there. We were aggressive on the bases. That’s what we’ve been doing all year.”
However, Nawa’s one run became mighty important as the Peru offense started turning the wheels and taking advantage of the Mendota mistakes.
Kirkman led the charge as she hit a double in the bottom of the fourth inning and was brought in on an RBI single from third baseman Adriaan Haage.
Haage’s RBI was one of three in the fourth as Peru scored four runs to cut Mendota’s lead to 9-5.
“I told the girls tonight I had confidence in them and they needed to bring that confidence out of themselves once again,” Peru coach Jen Pyszka said. “We started the game saying ‘I believe’ and I believed in them throughout the entire game. It didn’t matter that we were down 9-1.
“I told them we were going to get up, we were going to bat and we were going to score. That’s exactly what they did. They are a true team.”
After Defore and Fitzgerald scored their third runs of the game in the top of the fifth inning to give Mendota an 11-5 lead, Kirkman started the Peru offense once again as she reached on an error, stole third and scored on a passed ball with one out.
Two batters later, first baseman Grace Schmollinger walked, stole second and third and scored on a passed ball to cut the Mendota lead to 11-7.
“It was just some physical mistakes,” McDowell said. “We can live with that. They were where they were supposed to be. It’s tough but if we get that first out, I think it’s different. Give them credit. Coming back from 9-1 is pretty impressive.”
The Peru defense held Mendota at bay in the top of the sixth, which gave Peru extra momentum heading into its last opportunity for a win.
Three of Peru’s first four hitters reached on a Mendota errors, while second baseman Payge Pyszka hit an RBI single for the second of the five runs scored in the inning.
After a two-run single from shortstop Elia Becker tied the game, the stage was set for Kirkman to show her mother she did have confidence as she hit the game-winning RBI single.
With the victory, Peru will represent District 20 in the section tournament. Peru’s first game will be at 6 p.m. Friday in Oglesby against Sterling.
“For this team to make it there, I think it means the world,” Jen Pyszka said. “These girls have played hard. They obviously know how to fight back and we’re going to go into sectionals with confidence and we’re going to win. If we don’t, I’m proud of the girls and it doesn’t matter win or lose. They have played hard the entire season and they’re not going to give up.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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