The bond Kirsten Lightel has with her fellow seniors on the Tallmadge softball team is strong.
“We have been together since T-ball,” Lightel said. “Little league is a big thing in Tallmadge. We have a close friendship on and off the field. Our friendship carries over to the field. It is awesome to play with all my best friends.”
When Lightel says “best friends” she is referring to catcher Tori Young, first baseman Mackenzie Gershom, shortstop Sierra Bennett, center fielder-shortstop Taylor Phillips, left fielder Nicolette Williams, center fielder Emily Bratnick and right fielder Brandy Wakefield.
The eight seniors led Tallmadge (19-3, 13-1) to a Suburban League title and are looking to create even more memories in the coming weeks. The Blue Devils open what they hope is a long postseason run at 4:30 p.m. today by hosting CVCA in a Division II sectional final.
Bennett will unfortunately be out for the rest of the season with a recent knee injury, but Lightel will be ready to greet the Royals in the pitchers circle.
“Like our coach says, the most important game is the next one,” said Lightel, who has a 4.1 grade-point average. “We take it game-by-game. Our ultimate goal is to make it to state, but we take it one at a time. I know with me, I go by inning and I try to win every inning.”
Lightel is 17-2 pitching this season with a 0.61 ERA, 181 strikeouts and 23 walks in 122⅔ innings. She has a .345 batting average with 25 hits in 70 at bats, 11 runs batted in and nine runs.
“Kirsten is an outstanding student,” Tallmadge coach Ed Seeker said. “She is in the top 20 of her class. She is a tremendous role model. She is in the Leaders in Action, which is a high-profile student organization at the high school. She is not afraid to get involved with school activities or community activities She is very outgoing, but yet a humble young lady.
“As a student-athlete, you couldn’t ask for more than she gives you. She is always asking what else can we do to get better? She doesn’t shy away from extra work, and she is one of the more fun girls to be around. After the games she is a ball of fun. She is the leader of our team in all aspects. Throughout the game she makes sure that everybody is enjoying themselves.”
Tallmadge will miss Bennett (.500 average, 30 hits, 60 at-bats, 17 RBI), but will move forward with other hitters such as Gershom (.373) and junior third baseman Joanna Catalano (.365). Sophomores Lexi Philen (second base) and Kali Stroud (designated hitter) also start.
Lightel played on Tallmadge All-Star teams with several current teammates that won state 11U and 12U tournaments. The 12U team also featured Wakefield, Phillips, Bennett and Gershom, and participated in a 12U regional tournament in Missouri.
“Kirsten is a player that I can place at any position other than maybe catcher,” Seeker said. “She is very talented. She also plays golf and basketball.
“The whole family, their life has somewhat revolved around softball.”
Sport is family tradition
Softball is huge with several families in Tallmadge, where teams won state titles in Class AAA in 1981 and 1987, Class AA in 1988 and 1989 and Division II in 1993, 1997 and 1998.
Three teams were state runners-up (AAA-1983, II-1990, II-1995), four other teams reached the state semifinals (AAA-1982, AAA-1985, II-1999, II-2009).
Kirsten’s father, Doug, played baseball at Kent Roosevelt. Her mother, JoAnn, played on the 1983 Tallmadge team, and aunts, Peggy and Ann, played on Tallmadge state-title teams in 1987 and 1997, respectively.
Her sister, Brittany, was a sophomore on Tallmadge’s 2009 team.
“I remember sitting there with Mackenzie Gershom every game and we talked about how we would want to do that in high school,” Lightel said. “It got us excited. Her sister, Taylor Gershom, was on that team too. I really loved watching my sister play. It was very fun.”
The Lightel sisters played together in 2011 with Brittany a senior and Kirsten a freshman.
Kirsten will play next season at Ohio Northern University and Brittany will be a senior on the Baldwin Wallace softball team.
“BW was one of my top choices, but my intended major is pharmacy and Ohio Northern is all around the best option for me with the six-year program they have,” Lightel said. “I like Ohio Northern and the coach. I also like BW and the coach. I visited there officially and unofficially to watch Brittany play. The only difference was the education aspect.”
Lightel said her grandfather, Dave Peterson, has been influential in her development as a player. He worked his children and grandkids, such as Kirsten and Brittany.
“One of the biggest things that I learned from him is that ‘can’t’ is not a word,” Lightel said. “It is not in my vocabulary. He always told me I could do anything I put my mind to. He is one of my biggest fans.”
Lightel said she started playing softball at age 5 and started pitching when she was 8.
She and her teammates are aiming to win Tallmadge’s eighth state title in June.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or email@example.com. Read the high school blog at www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.