TONICA — The Mendota Junior League softball team is in familiar territory.
For the second straight summer, Mendota is the District 20 champions as it defeated Bi-County 12-1 in five innings of Game 1 of the championship series Thursday in Tonica.
With the D20 championship banner already in Mendota’s possession, the team is headed to the state tournament, which begins today and ends Tuesday.
Mendota’s first game at the tournament in Orion is at 10 a.m. today against District 9 and it plays District 10 at 3 p.m. today.
There will be two more games on Sunday — 11 a.m. against District 13 and 3 p.m. against District 15 — before bracket play begins Monday.
“I’m excited. This year we’re ready for the competition,” Mendota first baseman Macy Olson said. “Last year we really weren’t. We were tired and it was hot. We will definitely be ready this time.”
Mendota was also ready for Bi-County on Thursday.
In the top of the first inning, the gold jerseys crossed home plate five times off four hits to take an early 5-0 lead.
“We just had to wait for the ball,” Mendota pitcher Maddy Dalton said. “You could tell if it was going to go up or straight. It gets us hyped up when everyone is hitting the ball and we rally. We feed off of each other.”
The lead was never lost as Mendota scored 12 runs before Bi-County’s Mallory Freeman reached on a Mendota error and scored the team’s lone run in the bottom of the fifth.
Dalton pitched a gem as she didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning and finished with three hits, one unearned run, three strikeouts and no walks.
“I was just focused on Emma’s (catcher Emma Schultz) glove the whole time,” said Dalton, who also did damage at the plate going 2-of-4 with a double, two runs scored, a run batted in and a stolen base. “I knew as long as I stayed focused, I’d be fine.”
Thursday was not the first time Bi-County and Mendota had played each other.
Throughout the regular season the clubs met three times — Bi-County won them all — and they played in the opening round of the D20 tournament with Mendota winning 6-3.
“We knew this team was going to be a step up from the other teams we’ve faced,” said Olson, who was 2-of-3 with two doubles, two runs scored and an RBI. “We had seen them before so we knew what to be ready for.”
Bi-County coach Nico Salazar — who has coached the majority of this group for the last three years — wasn’t mad at the result, but he was disappointed because he knows the type of team he had on the field.
“It wasn’t a good game for us. It’s was a bad time for our worst game of the year,” Salazar said. “We played them tough all year and beat them every time we faced them in the regular season. In the first game (of the District 20 Tournament) it was 3-3 going into the sixth inning and then we fell apart.
“In this game, we just couldn’t make some plays. That’s how it works with young girls. Sometimes they’re playing well and sometimes they’re not. This was a bad time not to.”
Zofia Uzella, Neveah Goulding and Lilly Ficek recorded Bi-County’s three hits and pitcher Kara Staley took the loss in the circle after allowing 13 hits, 12 runs — 11 earned runs — while striking out seven and walking two.
Mendota had seven different girls score at least one run as Katie Jenner scored three runs as the leadoff hitter, Riley Sondgeroth, Dalton and Olson each scored two runs and Schultz, ReAnna Brant and Maddie Becker each added a run.
“The girls were very relaxed. They probably had about 50 practices this year,” said Mendota coach Larry Klema, who began coaching Little League with his daughter, Rylee Klema, who was the 2018 NewsTribune Softball Player of the Year. “They thought I was crazy when I said, ‘We’re practicing three times a week.’ Well, we did. They’ve been working hard. They did all the hard work.
“Going to state is one of my highlights in my softball career. We’re really excited. I told them this morning, ‘We have 21 outs.’ I told them after the game, ‘We have 21 more outs.’ This is going to be fun.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.