The Hannibal softball team hopes to overcome a pair of 1-run regular-season losses to Mexico by beating its rival for the district championship.

The final feature of a thrilling trilogy is coming to a field near you.

The Hannibal softball team hopes to overcome a pair of 1-run regular-season losses to Mexico by beating its rival for the district championship.

Hannibal, the No. 2 seed, makes its second straight appearance in the Class 3 District 8 title game when it faces top-seeded Mexico at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Veterans Sports Complex.

“Going into this year, we knew we not only could go back to the championship, but we have the opportunity to walk out of here being district champions,” Hannibal coach Kendra Murphy said. “We set that goal from the very beginning. Now it's just a matter of, can we do it?”

Hannibal (15-10) edged Fulton 3-1 on Thursday to remain alive, while Mexico (20-7) downed reigning state champion Warrenton 2-0 in the other semifinal.

The Lady Bulldogs ran the table this year in the North Central Missouri Conference, including a 2-1 walk-off win over the Lady Pirates on Aug. 21 and a 5-4 victory Sept. 27 in the teams' second meeting.

“We know we can compete with them,” Murphy said. “We've had two very close games. One of them, we gave away. It's just a matter of getting the girls to believe and to own it and know that it's theirs to win or lose, it's not Mexico's, even though they're the No. 1 seed. They've beat us twice, but it's ours to take.” 

Mexico ace Paytience Lawson-Holman earned both wins against Hannibal during the regular season, striking out 14 batters in the process. The hurler pitched a 1-hit shutout Thursday to help the Lady Bulldogs advance.

Lawson-Holman mentioned her team's preparation is paying dividends.

“Our defense is working hard,” Lawson-Holman said. “We go to practice, work very hard, stay there late. Lots of dedication. Our hitting, we'll spend some extra time staying after practice and going in before, working on the little things that matter. It's obviously paying off.” 

Hannibal senior starter Desarae Garcia dodged trouble in a complete-game effort Thursday to send the Lady Pirates to the district title game. Murphy mentioned she expects Garcia to throw Saturday, but don't be surprised if junior Taylor Wilson also gets some work on the mound. 

Garcia noted her mentality is simple heading into the title game.

“They see the ball well and make really good contact, so I've got to hit my spots and do what I can to keep it away,” she said of Mexico. 

Battling Hannibal will be a tough Mexico lineup led by Logan Blevins, who has batted 4-for-7 with three RBIs against the Lady Pirates this season. 

“Average-wise, RBI-wise, she's come through for us all season long,” Mexico coach Keith Louder said of Blevins. “We've had a lot of different players come through at different times, but against Hannibal this year, she's come up a couple of times. She's an exciting player and has pretty good plate presence and swings the bat pretty well.” 

Olivia Pfeifer, who leads Hannibal with a .523 average, continues to provide a spark atop the Lady Pirates lineup. The shortstop went 2-for-3 and scored two of Hannibal's three runs against Fulton on Thursday.

Pfeifer sports the most success among Lady Pirates against Mexico this season, going 3-for-7 with three runs. She picked up Hannibal's lone hit in the foes' first matchup.

“She has a lot of good pitches, but I think seeing her for the third time will definitely help us,” Pfeifer said of Lawson-Holman. 

Also filling key roles in the middle of Hannibal's lineup are freshman Taylor Simms as well as juniors Josie Zeiger and Lauran Haye. Each picked up an RBI on Thursday.

A theme for the Lady Pirates' season has been digging an early hole only to try to claw out of it in the later innings of ballgames. A fast start will be crucial Saturday, according to Garcia. 

“I expect to come out and smash the ball the first inning and just continue on and fight to the end,” she said.

A year ago, Hannibal plated five runs in the first inning en route to ending Mexico's season with a 7-6 win in the district semifinals. 

Safe to say the Lady Bulldogs haven't forgotten.

“Last year's loss stung a lot,” Louder said. “To have a rough inning in the district game in the first inning and then to battle all the way back and then let it get away late, that was a hard one to sit with for a year. They've come in with a mission this year to accomplish more than what they got done last year.

“But you can't just want it. You've got to go do it.”

The championship game will have just as much meaning for Pfeifer and the Lady Pirates.

“I just don't want the season to end,” the senior said. “It's crazy because it's potentially going to be my last game and I really don't want it to be.”