AURORA — It was simply the conference opener, right?
Try telling Brittany Lightel it has little significance.
Just two days past April Fools’ Day and the first-year Tallmadge head softball coach believes her talented squad is in the driver’s seat for their second straight Suburban League American Conference title.
It’s a safe bet Aurora probably won’t argue with her.
That’s because the Blue Devils humbled the Greenmen for the second straight time.
Tallmadge improved to 5-3 overall and 1-0 in the conference after earning a commanding 9-2 victory over host Aurora Wednesday.
The Greenmen dropped to 1-1 overall and 1-1 in the conference.
Tallmadge, Aurora and Highland shared the conference title last year. Since the conference season is still in its infancy, a lot can happen before the trophy is hoisted.
Pardon Lightel if she is a bit stoked, though. The Blue Devils, who scored a 10-0 victory in five innings on the Greenmen’s home field last May, took it to Aurora with stellar pitching and a fearsome offensive attack in the latter innings.
"It’s huge," Lightel said. "I’m pumped; they’re pumped. I think they feed off my energy a lot, especially being so close in age with them. They like the intensity I have."
Tallmadge took full control in the top of the fifth.
After allowing two straight hits to start the inning, junior Rachael Dudziak was removed from the game with the Greenmen trailing 1-0.
Freshman Mackenzie Krafcik took the ball and was greeted rather harshly.
Krafcik’s counterpart in the pitcher’s circle, senior Emily Pratt, smacked Krafcik’s second pitch of the afternoon to the outfield grass for a two-run single.
Senior left fielder Gia Spitali and senior Zoe Spoljaric, who left the game after being hit by a foul ball, also had run-scoring singles in the frame.
As a result, a close game turned into a rout. The Blue Devils’ advantage was now a comfortable seven runs.
"They got two runners on with nobody out," Petrash said. "They were starting to grab some momentum, so we made a change.
"We made a conscious decision when they got to the third time. If they were getting on her and we felt they were getting on her, we’d make a change."
"You make those decisions. You make a chess move. Sometimes, it works, sometimes, it doesn’t."
Prior to the sixth, Tallmadge had been hitting the ball hard. However, Dudziak had a knack for wiggling out of jams whenever the Blue Devils made a threat.
"One through nine, I’m confident in our hitters," Lightel said. "They’re contact hitters. I’m 100 percent confident in their ability to put the bat on the ball. It’s just us stringing them together.
"When they were all coming in, I said, ‘Guys, we’re putting the bat on the ball. We need to put runners in scoring position. We’re going to bunt for the meat of the order. I need you guys to capitalize on that.’"
Fortunately for Lightel, the Blue Devils delivered. And they also had a formidable ace on their side to shut the opposition down.
Pratt was untouchable until she had a trace of fatigue issues in the final innings.
The hard-throwing senior struck out 14 batters and issued no walks in seven innings of work. Aurora had three of its five hits and scored both of its runs in the sixth. However, Pratt retired the last five batters in order to end the game. Four of those batters struck out.
"I saw her [Pratt] getting a lot of that outside corner," Petrash said. "That’s frustrating because the difference in that game was, Tallmadge was taking that outside pitch and going the other way.
"For us, we were giving up on it. If you want to play high-caliber ball, you have to make adjustments. We didn’t do it."
Spoljaric drove in Tallmadge’s first run with a two-out single in the fourth. Junior catcher Jordyn Severns, who helped Pratt regain her focus in the sixth, also had a run-scoring single.
"Jordyn does a great job pumping them [the pitchers] up," Lightel said. "When we know they’re getting tired in the sixth or seventh inning, Jordyn does a great job of saying, ‘OK, we got six outs. Give it to me all you got.’"
Senior center fielder Autumn Malicoat starred at the plate and the field for the Blue Devils. She finished with four hits, including a run-scoring double, and also made a nice running catch on a deep fly ball late in the game.
Senior third baseman Julia Mazanec had a double and a run scored and Dudziak and junior catcher Aleese Angelo had run-scoring doubles for the Greenmen. Angelo also scored a run.
Nearly one year ago, Petrash’s team stunned the Blue Devils on their home field. The second-year Aurora coach knows his team will get another crack.
Until then, the Greenmen plan to go back to the basics.
"We believe in them 100 percent," Petrash said. "I told them, ‘On paper, I’d put you guys against anybody if we learn to do the little things.
"Did they want it? They wanted it. They were hungry; they were aggressive; they played hard. You have to harness that and make adjustments."
As for Lightel, she knows the conference title is there for the taking. Nonetheless, the first-year head coach will not take anyone for granted the rest of the way.
"They are the co-champs," Lightel said of the Greenmen. "Coming out like that and taking them down, we have a good chance at the league."
"No matter who we play, I think, ‘They’re a Suburban League team.’ I’m going to take everyone with the same intensity."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.