ORION — After a tough start to the season, the Mendota softball team started to put it together over the last few weeks.
“We started playing the last couple weeks together,” MHS coach Joel Perez said. “We had some of the freshmen and sophomores up and down during the season. The last couple weeks, we put them together and we figured out who was going to be where — things like that that make you a good ball club.”
The result was another postseason run by the Lady Trojans.
A year after winning the program’s first ever regional championship, Mendota repeated as a No. 6 seed.
However, the run came to an end Wednesday with a 10-9 loss to Winnebago in a Class 2A Orion Sectional semifinal.
“It’s not where we wanted to finish,” Perez said. “We were hoping to get through two more games at least and set another school record (for furthest advancement in the postseason). But I think the program is going in the right direction. The freshman/sophomore team got second in the conference. We have some young talent who is hungry too. I think we’ll be competitive for the next three or four years.”
Early Monday, it didn’t look like the sectional semifinal would be competitive.
After Winnebago leadoff hitter Aurora Insko reached on an infield single, MHS first baseman Larkin O’Donnell made a diving catch on a popped up bunt then fired to first base for a double play.
But the Lady Trojans couldn’t escape the inning without damage as four consecutive singles by the Lady Indians gave them a 2-0 lead.
Things got worse for Mendota in the second inning.
After two quick outs, Winnebago started another rally, and with the help of a Mendota error, scored six runs in the frame to take an 8-0 lead.
“We started off a little flat and you can’t do that against a good team,” Perez said. “We played them twice in the conference. I don’t know if we came out thinking we might get a win. We split with them in the regular season. We just didn’t make plays on some of the duck snorts. We didn’t go get it like we work on. That stuff happens sometimes. I had (the outfielders) backed up because the wind was blowing out. Some of the balls that don’t usually drop, fell in. You have to give them credit. They went in there, swung the bats and did what they were supposed to do.”
The Lady Trojans managed to turn it around.
Reiss Buettner led off the bottom of the second inning by blasting a solo home run to breathe life into the Lady Trojans.
After two outs, Anna Bokus doubled to left field and scored on a single by Larkin O’Donnell.
Paige Manning came on in relief and pitched a scoreless third inning before MHS continued to chip away at its deficit.
Jenna O’Donnell smashed a two-run homer and Bokus later delivered an RBI single to cut Mendota’s deficit to 8-5.
The Lady Trojans added a run in the fourth and five more in the fifth to pull within a run at 10-9.
However, Mendota went down 1-2-3 in each the sixth and seventh innings as its season came to an end.
“We always talk about battling,” Perez said. “We’ve been doing this all year long. We keep battling and never give up. We had it 10-9 with two innings left, but we just couldn’t push one more across.”
Mary Defore took the loss in the circle for MHS, who finished 14-17 after a 3-11 start.
Alex Barrera, Manning, Jenna O’Donnell, Buettner and Bokus all had multiple hits.
Monday’s loss marked the end of the prep careers for Buettner, Barrera, Larkin O’Donnell, Eve Herbert, Juliana Sarbabia and Emma Boatman.
“Some of them played three years and some played four years for me,” Perez said about the seniors. “It’ll be tough to replace them. They’ve meant a lot to this program. We’ll miss them for sure.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.