Kirsten Lightel threw seven shutout innings in Tallmadge’s 2-0 victory over St. Vincent-St. Mary in a Division II regional final Saturday at Akron’s Firestone Park, striking out eight and allowing just four hits and three walks.
Not that the Blue Devils expected any less from her.
Lightel has been the backbone of the Tallmadge softball team all season, being credited with the win in 22 of the Blue Devils’ 24 victories.
Now Lightel and her Tallmadge teammates are heading to the state tournament for the first time in five years.
“Kirsten has been there all year,” Tallmadge coach Ed Seeker said. “She’s a workhorse and she’s everything to this team. And she actually wasn’t feeling her best the last couple days, she’s had a cough, but you’re not going to keep her down in a big game like this. She showed what she’s about today.”
Lightel, a senior, helped herself out by helping to manufacture a run in the first inning, giving her a cushion to work with for the rest of the game.
Senior shortstop Taylor Phillips, the leadoff hitter for the Blue Devils’ (24-3), drew a five-pitch walk to lead off the game.
Lightel tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but appeared to be hit by the first pitch and took first base. After a meeting, the umpires ruled that the ball actually hit Lightel’s bat, and they sent her back to the plate with one strike.
The Fighting Irish (18-5) would have preferred if Lightel had taken first because she laid down a bunt on the next pitch and St. V-M pitcher Lexie Handley threw it away, allowing Lightel to advance to second and Phillips to third.
After Handley struck out the next batter, junior cleanup hitter and third baseman Joanna Catalano hit an RBI single to score Phillips and give the Blue Devils a 1-0 lead.
“You try to make things happen,” Seeker said. “We’ve done that all year. We’ve been aggressive on the bases and we just felt that we could make something happen if we got someone on. Phillips got on base, Lightel got a bunt down and then they’ve got to catch the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball again. And that’s what happens when you put the ball in play.”
Lightel cruised from that point on, retiring the first eight Irish batters she faced and needing just 34 pitches to get through the first three innings.
The Irish got the tying run on third base with two outs in the fourth and sixth innings, but both times Lightel was able to induce an inning-ending ground ball, and the defense behind her executed.
“We didn’t get rattled,” Seeker said. “Kirsten kept the ball to where we had control of it. They hit the ball hard a couple times and our infield was able to knock it down. It was just a good all-around game.”
No. 3 hitter Kali Stroud crushed a two-strike, two-out homer to center field in the sixth inning to give Tallmadge an insurance run and a 2-0 lead.
Handley threw all six innings for the Irish, striking out seven and allowing four hits and one walk. She also led the Irish at the plate with two singles.
Tallmadge faces Lima Bath (27-1) in a state semifinal at 10 a.m. Thursday at Firestone Stadium.
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