AKRON — When her players made their way to the dugout after a hard-fought game, Tallmadge first-year head softball coach Brittany Lightel made sure she bumped into her pitcher.
Once she saw her star hurler, Lightel said just two simple words.
“Thank you,” she said.
Every time Emily Pratt takes the circle, Lightel won’t forget to count her blessings.
Neither will the rest of the Blue Devils.
Thanks to Pratt’s two-hit masterpiece, the Tallmadge softball team improved to 4-1 in the Suburban League American Conference after earning a 1-0 victory over Revere.
The contest took place Tuesday at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
Pratt, the team’s ace for the last two years, used a lethal riseball and vicious drop curve to baffle the Minutemen (6-8, 2-3) throughout the afternoon.
She finished with 11 strikeouts and did not issue a walk. Just 24 Revere batters got to take their licks against the talented hurler.
“I told her, ‘You threw great,’” Lightel said. “She looked so calm out there. I know she felt comfortable. She looked good. She was calm.”
Pratt retired the first 10 batters in order before allowing a single to left field Katie Azzolina.
Pratt then retired the next nine Minutemen in order before running into a little bit of a jam in the seventh.
Revere catcher Lauren Skidmore reached on an infield error with one out. Pratt got the next batter to foul out toward the first-base line, but second baseman Jennica Levermann put the go-ahead run on base when she smacked a single to center.
But the unflappable Pratt didn’t flinch.
She got the final batter to stare at a nasty strike-three pitch on the outside corner.
“I knew that they were very pumped up because it was a one-inning game,” Pratt said. “I knew that they had the heart of their order. In my mind, it was shut them down, stop it right there.
“After the error, nothing really changed. It was only one batter. There was a runner on first and I still had two bases to give up and there was one out to get.”
Pratt’s performance was particularly crucial since Tallmadge had much difficulty solving Revere sophomore pitcher Shannon Appel.
Although Appel struggled to get ahead of the hitters, she made critical pitch after critical pitch to keep the Blue Devils’ hitters at bay.
Appel allowed just three hits and did not give up a single hit when Tallmadge had a runner on base. In fact, the Blue Devils had zero hits in 11 at bats with teammates roaming the base paths.
“Our bats were just sleeping … again,” Lightel said. “We talked about one run not always being enough. Sometimes in our league, it’s not going to be enough. We got lucky.”
Fortunately, Tallmadge was able to manufacture the lone run it needed. And the Blue Devils didn’t necessarily need their aluminum stick to do so.
Senior third baseman Paige Leitner started the bottom of the second with a single to center. She advanced to second on a wild pitch and eventually scored after an error and a pair of walks.
Junior shortstop Jordyn Severns drove in the only run without taking the bat off her shoulders. She drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs.
Appel walked five batters during the afternoon, but just two after the first two innings.
Appel’s modus operandi was to tempt the Blue Devils to chase pitches up in the zone.
As a result, Tallmadge wound up hitting ground ball after ground ball despite being behind in the count.
Such a sight has been all too common for Lightel, who has been baffled by her players inability to modify their approach in the batter’s box.
“I went up there and I said, ‘I don’t know what to say,’” Lightel said. “We have to make the adjustment. We need to lay off the high pitch. We’re a sucker for the high pitch.
“If we’re not going to lay off the high pitch, we have to adjust. We have to get our hands high. We have to move back in the box. Unfortunately, we still struggle with those kinds of adjustments.”
Putting a good swing on the softball isn’t the only mess the Blue Devils have encountered in recent days.
Due to a violation, Tallmadge had to forfeit a number of its wins. As a result, the Blue Devils are just 4-11 overall.
Tallmadge used an ineligible player in some previous games. Thankfully for the Blue Devils, the penalty only cost them one conference game.
“Unfortunately, we had to give back some of those wins,” Lightel said. “We’re rallying back. We’ll be alright.”
“They know it’s ugly. We had to drop a league win, but it’s not terrible. It’s still doable to win it outright. We still have a chance at the league. We just have to come out harder.
“They have great attitudes about it. I can’t ask for much more from them.”
Pratt certainly knew the margin for error was pretty much nonexistent after her team was penalized. Her approach the rest of the way is simple: Bring it on.
“Ever since we got the one loss, it’s really important that we perform better and that we perform more as a team,” Pratt said. “All of these games count a lot more now.
“The little birdie on our shoulders is always saying, ‘These games count, but don’t [put too much pressure] on yourself. But you have to perform higher than you normally would.’”
While Pratt would like to see the bats come alive, she certainly hasn’t taken her teammates for granted.
To Pratt, the rest of her blue and gold compatriots are made of the same flesh and blood as she is.
“The adversity has made us a lot stronger,” Pratt said. “It has made us more like a family. I love each and every one of them. This is my family. I will go to battle with them every single day.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.