BATH TOWNSHIP — Prior to this season, the Tallmadge baseball team had enjoyed two of its greatest years in recent history.
Two members of those stacked Blue Devils squads may have felt somewhat insignificant in terms of being major contributors.
That’s certainly not the case now.
Thanks to seniors Todd Bangston and Jake Reifsnyder, Tallmadge, which reached the Division II state semifinals last year after winning the state championship in 2017, is enjoying another stellar season.
The Blue Devils improved to 12-6 overall and 8-3 in the Suburban League American Conference after posting a 12-2 victory over host Revere Tuesday in Bath Township. The game was called after six innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Bangston, a right-hander who didn’t get much time on the mound the previous two years, pitched all six innings to pick up the win.
Reifsnyder, who got very few at-bats despite starting at third base the last two years, had two hits, two RBIs and a run scored.
Bangston continues to establish himself as Tallmadge’s most dependable hurler.
He finished with four strikeouts and issued no walks while allowing six hits to improve to 5-2.
Unlike most ace pitchers, Bangston relies on finesse and precision rather than pure power.
“I don’t throw too hard,” he said. “My stuff moves. I know where to place it and [senior catcher] Richie [Eyre] does a really good job behind the plate. The defense backs me up.”
Reifsnyder, who started at shortstop, also has seen time on the mound this spring. His bat has really come to life now that he is getting a chance to take his cuts.
“He only had a half-dozen at-bats maybe last year,” Tallmadge head coach Kenny Linn said. “It was a very unique, tough situation. He’s a very tough, hard-nosed, believes-in-himself type kid.
“It was not easy for him. He did everything we asked. Now he’s in a different world and he’s doing a nice job.”
Both of Bangston’s runs were unearned as he forced the Minutemen to pound the ball to the dirt time and time again. Revere finished with eight groundouts.
“The defense struggled a little bit, but they bounced back,” Bangston said. “They usually do. That’s how I pitch. I pitch to the defense. They make the plays and they win games.”
While becoming a starting pitcher on the varsity level took a little longer than he hoped, Bangston has been blessed to have a batterymate who has his share of battle scars.
Eyre has been the Blue Devils’ starting catcher for what seems like forever. Therefore, Bangston knew it was best to pick the longtime backstop’s brain as much as possible.
“He’s great,” Bangston said of Eyre. “We get each other water to make sure we’re hydrated and make sure we’re ready to go out, catch our breath, everything.
“We just look after each other. He’s a great catcher.”
When it comes to being reliable, Bangston is the type of hurler you want on your side.
He may not dominate hitters like most power pitchers do. Nonetheless, Bangston’s performances will look strikingly similar each time he takes the mound.
“Todd just continues to give us the same sort of outing every time,” Linn said. “He’s just going to throw strikes, pound the zone and all we have to do is field it behind him.
“He pitches to contact. Everything moves that he throws. He’s not easy to square up.”
Reifsnyder, on the other hand, has been squaring up just about everything in recent weeks. The versatile infielder has thrived big-time now that he has a full-time job.
“He has been swinging the bat pretty well for the last couple weeks,” Linn said of Reifsnyder. “He’s stepping up and we couldn’t be happier with where he’s at right now.”
The two resilient seniors may not get a chance to win a second consecutive American Conference championship.
The Blue Devils suffered a heartbreaking 11-10 loss to host Kent Roosevelt in 10 innings Monday. As a result, Tallmadge trails the Rough Riders by one game with just one left to play.
The Blue Devils do have a pulse, though.
They are scheduled to visit conference rival Highland Wednesday in Granger Township. And, of course, Tallmadge will take another crack at making a deep tourney run that hopes to reach June for the third consecutive year.
“We just had to get back to the basics,” Bangston said. “We had to quit getting in our heads and play baseball and have fun.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.