Tallmadge’s bats came alive at a most opportune time and carried the Blue Devils to a berth in the Akron Division II regional softball final.
Sophomore Kali Stroud put Tallmadge (23-3) ahead with a third-inning solo home run and doubled during a three-run fifth, backing Kirsten Lightel’s strong pitching for a 5-1 victory Wednesday over Poland at Firestone Stadium.
At noon Saturday, the Blue Devils will face the winner of today’s semifinal between St. Vincent-St-Mary and Jefferson Area.
Stroud benefited from her first at-bat when she saw six pitches from Poland left-hander Taylor Miokovic (14-5) before grounding into a force out.
“I’ve been in a slump and I hit one on the ground hard,” Stroud said. “And I came back up and I just wanted to get a good hit and get back into the way I actually hit. And I did better in this game, and that’s good.”
With two outs in the third, Stroud swung hard at the first pitch she saw and drilled it high over the left field fence — her third homer of the season — for the game’s first run.
“Fast ball, outside corner, every time first pitch,” said Stroud, who also hit the first pitch on her double. “And I just took advantage of it and gave it a ride.”
The Blue Devils pounded out nine hits with contributions from most of their lineup.
“We have been struggling probably for the last six or seven games scoring runs,” said Tallmadge coach Ed Seeker. “We had six runs against Beaumont [a 6-0 district final victory] but we didn’t hit the ball as well as we did tonight.”
Lightel, a senior right-hander, pitched a two-hitter and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, preserving a 2-1 lead, before her teammates provided some breathing room with three runs in Tallmadge’s half.
Miokovic doubled to start the Poland (22-9) fifth and a walk and a bunt loaded the bases. The Bulldogs scored on a fielder’s choice grounder, as Miokovic beat the throw home, and the bases remained full with one out.
But Lightel (21-2) dug deep, getting the next two batters on swinging third strikes.
“Honestly, I felt calmer,” Lightel said. “I felt like a sense of calmness came over me and I knew we were going to get out of it. I knew we were going to be fine. We were on this girl. We were hitting tonight. It’s gotten a lot better. Really proud of everybody tonight.”
She said the rise ball was her best pitch, using it for big strikeouts.
“All my pitches were working,” said Lightel, who had 10 strikeouts and just one walk. “I was throwing hard, hitting my spots. Me and my catcher [Tori Young] worked together calling pitches. I feel like this is one of our best games of the season.”
Senior Mackenzie Gershom singled with one out in the fourth, and courtesy runner Alyssa Garbinsky scored on senior Brandy Wakefield’s two-out single for a 2-0 lead.
In the fifth, senior Taylor Phillips led off with a bunt single. With one out, Stroud laced a ground-rule double down the left-field line and both scored on junior Joanna Catalano’s double to left center. Catalano raced home on a two-out wild pitch to make it 5-1.
“I was looking for a good pitch to drive,” Catalano said. “It was an amazing feeling. I haven’t been gotten too many hits lately but that one definitely helps.”
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