TALLMADGE — When it comes to the Suburban League American Conference, most teams would be more than happy to follow the Tallmadge softball team’s blueprint.
That list includes Aurora.
Unfortunately for the Lady Blue Devils, the Lady Greenmen appear to be following Tallmadge’s model to a T.
Aurora improved to 3-0 overall and 2-0 in the American Conference after posting a 7-3 victory over the host Lady Blue Devils Wednesday at Stein Field.
The Lady Greenmen took control with five runs in the third inning, thanks to their ability to take advantage of pitches that caught too much of the plate and their execution of small ball.
Aurora had four hits in the inning and also successfully executed two safety squeeze bunts.
When the dust settled, the Lady Greenmen took a 6-1 lead and cruised the rest of the way.
Pardon Aurora first-year head coach Sam Petrash for being a bit surprised by the end result. After all, Tallmadge has been a Northeast Ohio powerhouse for many years.
While the Lady Greenmen have had some success in recent years, they haven’t exactly come close to the Lady Blue Devils, who have won seven state titles in their storied history.
"I have a lot of respect for the Tallmadge program," Petrash said. "I can’t remember Aurora beating Tallmadge. They have a strong feeder program. We’re trying to do the same thing."
The big blow in the third inning was left-handed pitcher Kelci Fleming’s two-run double that grazed the right-field line not far past first base.
"Aurora has a very good team," Lady Blue Devils head coach Ed Seeker said. "They put the ball in play."
Junior left fielder Ariane Ugran and sophomore second baseman Jessica Pajek executed safety squeeze bunts to perfection and senior first baseman Hailey Bodine drove in another run with a fielder’s choice in the pivotal third inning.
"We know Tallmadge is fundamentally sound," Petrash said. "We just wanted to make things happen."
The Lady Greenmen’s small-ball tactics were especially lethal since the Lady Blue Devils’ infielders found themselves at the wrong spots at the worst times.
"They hit the ball hard, but we struggled with our bunt coverage," Seeker said. "We have to look at the things that beat us. We did not play good defense. We made a lot of mistakes."
Oddly enough, Aurora seemed to lose all of its momentum one inning prior to putting together its barrage of offense.
The Lady Greenmen had the bases loaded with no outs in the second, but Tallmadge junior left-hander Hallie Mullett got out of the jam unscathed. One of those outs was a pickoff at third base.
"That’s what’s great about this group," Petrash said. "They are always positive and they support each other. When I got a runner picked off at third, I told the girls, ‘I need you to pick me up’ and they did."
Aurora scored the game’s first run in the top of the first on an infield error. Junior third baseman Julia Mazanec, who recently decided to continue her academic and softball careers at Kent State University, had a one-out single in the inning and eventually scored.
That was just the start of a big day for Mazanec, who had three singles and was hit by a pitch. She also scored the go-ahead run in the third.
"Julia is a high-energy player who is a spark plug for us," Petrash said. "She is such a heady player. She sets the tone for our bunt defense."
The Lady Blue Devils tied the game in the bottom of the first when junior center fielder Autumn Malicoat smacked a single off the first-base bag, moved to third on a single by sophomore right fielder Kennedy Rorar and scored on a ground out by junior designated player Emily Pratt.
Malicoat drove in Tallmadge’s second run in the third when she grounded out to the pitcher. Sophomore catcher Jordyn Severns, who led off the inning with a triple, waited patiently for the play to unfold before she took off from third and scored on the throw home. Severns also gunned down a runner at third base in the sixth.
The Lady Greenmen got their last run in the seventh on a run-scoring single by sophomore right fielder Lauren Callahan.
That was plenty of offense for Fleming, who let her defense do the work and made key pitches under duress.
Tallmadge, which got its final run on a run-scoring single from Rorar in the seventh, had three hits in 15 at-bats with runners on base and were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position.
Fleming pitched all seven innings to improve to 2-0 on the season.
"Kelci’s first two starts have been phenomenal," Petrash said. "Against Copley (an 11-10 win Monday in Aurora), she battled even though it was cold and the field conditions were less than ideal. She pitched the whole game even though she was slipping off the mound."
Mullett was chased in the third inning and was replaced by Pratt, who finished the game.
"Hallie wasn’t on (Wednesday)," Seeker said.
The Lady Greenmen had 12 hits compared to just seven hits for the Lady Blue Devils, who also committed one error. Aurora did not commit a single error.
The Lady Greenmen are off to a strong start despite being led by a new coach. Of course, when you’re as talented and as fundamentally sound as Aurora, Petrash has enjoyed a smooth ride thus far.
"It’s still a feeling-out process," he said. "I’m still trying to find out what makes them tick.
"They’re adjusting to my philosophy, but it hasn’t been much of an overhaul. These girls are so talented and they have such high softball IQs."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.