The Mendota Minor League softball team had a tune up Tuesday night.
It paid off Wednesday.
Mendota jumped ahead early en route to an 8-5 victory over Peru in the District 20 championship game.
“It feels fantastic,” Mendota manager Chawn Huffaker said. “The girls have worked hard all season long. It just makes it even more rewarding knowing how much the girls have put into it.
“The key to tonight’s game was our practice (Tuesday) night where we worked on fielding, throwing, bunting and hitting — all the fundamentals. It was just a refresher before the championship game.”
Mendota used aggressive base running to grab a 5-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
Sydney Tolley drew a walk to start the game then stole second base before Emma Huffaker drove her in with a single.
Talia White followed with an RBI single of her own.
Abbie Kreiser and Karson Doyle later drew walks and scored, while Addie Jones drew a bases-loaded walk.
In the game, Mendota drew 12 walks, stole seven bases and took 13 bases on wild pitches.
“We had patience at the plate,” Chawn Huffaker said. “We stressed that all season long — being patient, seeing a ball, seeing a strike, knowing what to do with each of them and not being over aggressive. But we are aggressive on the base paths. That’s us, we’re patient at the plate, but once we get on the bases, all patience goes away and we go.”
Mendota added a run each in the second, third and fourth innings.
In the second, Lily Soliman ripped an RBI double.
Michelle Cuevas drew a walk in the third, advanced to second on a wild pitch, stole third base and scored on a wild pitch.
Solimon capped Mendota’s scoring when she reached on a fielder’s choice before stealing second, third and home.
“What we did to add on more runs is we just stayed consistent,” Chawn Huffaker said. “That’s the thing about this game — consistency and the fundamentals will get you far. That’s what we stress.”
Emma Huffaker earned the win in the circle for Mendota as she allowed five runs on five hits with 13 strikeouts and four walks.
“We had lockdown defense,” Chawn Huffaker said. “The defense was really great. Emma did a fabulous job in the circle and Abbie did a wonderful job behind the plate as they have the entire season.”
Peru chipped away at its deficit.
Mackenzie Chamberlain smacked a double to start the bottom of the first inning and later scored on a stolen base and an error.
In the fourth, Talia Pantoja ripped a hard ground ball that hit the lip of the outfield grass and skipped over the left fielder’s head for a two-run home run.
Taylor Vescagni later singled, stole second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a wild pitch.
In the sixth, Ruby Michels walked and pinch runner Parker McClain stole second and came around to score when the throw went into the outfield.
“I thought the team played exceptionally well trying to come back from an early deficit,” Peru manager Fran Baker said. “The whole tournament we’ve been fighting back through the loser’s bracket. (Tuesday) we came back. The game before that we came back from a 6-0 deficit. They’re fighters and I’m extremely proud of everything they did.
“It’s a tough tournament. Last year, Peru went to state at this level. It’s always tough in District 20. Losing the first game to La Salle was difficult, but it was sweet to come back and put La Salle out of the tournament to face Mendota. We fought hard and came all the way back to the championship game.”
Mendota advances to the state tournament in Burbank. Mendota plays at 1:30 p.m. Sunday against the winner of Saturday’s game between District 13 and District 17.
“I expect the same level of competition that we got from Peru,” Chawn Huffaker said. “That was an outstanding game. I knew Peru was tough. I knew La Salle was tough. I was worried about playing either one of them. I knew Peru would give us a heck of a game tonight.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.