The journey to the top of the North Central Missouri Conference standings is never an easy one, but on Tuesday the Mexico varsity softball team took a big step in the right direction by mercying Kirksville in six innings 12-1.

"We didn't get the bats going until the fourth inning. We were making contact early, but didn't have much to show for it," said coach Keith Louder. "We started putting the ball in play in the fourth and that makes a big difference. We also made the other team make some plays."

After the first inning ended tied at 1-1, the Lady Tigers tried to take the lead in the top of the third with runners on second and third base. Two key outs last and pitcher Paytience Lawson-Holman had worked herself out of what would prove to be her greatest test of the game.

"(Holman) has taken a big step up from last season. She was a good pitcher last year and she's better this year," Louder said. "She's always around the plate. It was a little uncharacteristic of her in the first inning to walk a couple of batters. Once she settled in, she controlled the gamer from a pitching standpoint. That's what she brings to us, her ability to be around the plate. She can get strikeouts when we need that or a ball hit not that solid that we can make a play on. That's huge for us."

The winning run for the Lady Bulldogs came in the bottom of the third when Holman reached base on a two-out error. Hayley Mills then made a solid connection to drive her home, but was then called out after trying to stretch a double into a triple.

"I think everybody we've got playing is confident in where they're at. If we do have a miscue they just settle down and move on to the next play," said Louder. "They find a way to make the next play happen and they don't let those things snowball on them. That first inning was a little rough, but the only run they scored was on a ground ball in the infield. That's the kind of things that allows us to stay in games."

It was the fourth when Mexico truly took over starting with Mattie Roth scoring on a single to centerfield by Raigan Playter, who then advanced to third on a single to right field by Taylor Sherrow. That set up an Aaryon Sampo single that made it a 4-1 game that grew into a five run advantage on a two-RBI double by Reghan Smith. Holman, Logan Blevins and Roth then charted a RBI each to put the score at 9-1.

"If you've got solid defense and good pitching, you add some hitting to that and all of the sudden you get to be a tough team, at times," Louder said. "I'm pleased with aspects of this game, but there are things we need to do better, but as a coach you're always looking for something you can do better."

Even though the Lady Bulldogs did try and turn a leadoff single by Playter into something greater in the fifth, it was the sixth that featured the final three runs of the night to force the mercy rule into effect.

The Lady Bulldogs, 5-2 overall, hosts Hannibal on Thursday for a league game.