CANTON — Gia Spitali joyfully put her textbooks away for good prior to the biggest game of her career.
The senior left fielder, along with her four teammates from the Tallmadge softball team, completed their final day of school at the hallowed halls of Tallmadge High School Tuesday.
While she ended an era of pop quizzes and homeroom, Spitali hopes she won’t have to ditch her spikes for at least another week or two.
She may get her wish. Spitali will wear her softball uniform at least one more time.
The sixth-seeded Blue Devils advanced to a Division II district title game after earning a lopsided 11-1 victory over seventh-seeded Akron Coventry.
The district semifinal contest took place Tuesday at Willig Park in Canton.
Spitali got things going in the bottom of the second inning with a two-out, two-run double that sliced toward the left-field line.
The Blue Devils added three more runs in the inning and overwhelmed the Comets with six more in the fourth.
“It feels great, especially with everything we’ve been through and having Brittany this year,” Spitali said. “I think it’s really good that we’re pushing through. I feel like we’re all finally coming together and it’s really, finally, here.”
Spitali is referring to Brittany Lightel, a 2011 Tallmadge and former softball standout who took over the head coaching duties this season.
Lightel, who also played softball at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, was the Blue Devils’ assistant coach the previous two years.
Spitali has grown quite fond of her coach ever since she first met her during her sophomore year.
“I feel she’s almost like a sister,” Spitali said. “I look up to her so much. She’s always pushing us and is never soft on us, but she’s always there for us when we need her the most.
“She has just been so supportive and she knows so much about the game. We’re so grateful to have her.”
Spitali has made her “big sis” proud throughout the spring.
The senior has been torching the softball in recent weeks. Due to Spitali’s impressive track record, Lightel was absolutely stoked to see her talented outfielder come to the plate with a chance to put Tallmadge on the board.
“She has been on fire,” Lightel said of Spitali. “When we were at Canton South, she hit amazing there. When we played at Manchester, she was amazing there.
“I was confident we would see a base hit out of her in that situation.”
Spitali’s two-run smash came on a high, inside fastball by Comets’ pitcher Jenna Hinkle.
Spitali wasn’t planning to be patient when she took her spot in the batter’s box. She was looking for a pitch to drive as soon as Hinkle went into her windup.
“The only thing I was thinking was, ‘As soon as it goes out of her hand, just swing,’” Spitali said. “I just wanted to expect it and explode and that’s exactly what I did.”
For much of the season, the Blue Devils have struggled to get the critical hit with runners in scoring position.
One of the major reasons was Tallmadge’s inability to adjust to the opposing pitchers’ plan of attack.
It took a bit longer than expected, but it looks like the Blue Devils have finally figured it out.
“Yeah, for sure, especially since we’re not leaving as many runners on base,” Spitali said. “I think that was one of our downfalls. We wouldn’t make adjustments.”
Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for Tallmadge.
With the win, the Blue Devils improved to a modest 10-14. Due to an ineligible player incident, Tallmadge had to forfeit a number of its wins, including a crucial conference victory.
Therefore, the Blue Devils did not repeat as Suburban League American Conference champions.
Such heartbreak is now past tense for Spitali and her teammates. They still have a chance to achieve more prestigious things in the always stressful but exhilarating postseason tournament.
“I think we’ve come back really good,” Spitali said. “We just stuck by each other’s side. Being best friends is just as good as being teammates.
“We’ve really pushed through. Especially [Tuesday], with the seniors being their last day, we really wanted to get this win.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.