CANTON — For what seems like an eternity, first-year Tallmadge head softball coach Brittany Lightel has urged her players to make adjustments at the plate.
For the most part, she has been encouraging.
Sometimes, though, she may have been a bit stern.
And then there are other times when she has practically begged them to heed her advice.
On Tuesday, the Blue Devils finally took their coach’s words of wisdom to heart.
As a result, they’re going back to the district final after a one-year hiatus.
Sixth-seeded Tallmadge crushed seventh-seeded Akron Coventry 11-1 in a Division II district semifinal game at Willig Park in Canton. The contest was called after 4 ½ innings due to the 10-run mercy rule.
With the win, the Blue Devils (10-14) are scheduled to play top-seeded Field Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
"The girls are pumped," Lightel said. "It’s just a good feeling to have. The girls are a little more excited.
"We didn’t win the league. We had that unfortunate incident happen. Going into the district tournament, it’s a whole new season."
That "unfortunate incident" cost Tallmadge a number of wins.
Due to an ineligible player, the Blue Devils had to forfeit a large chunk of their victories. Therefore, Tallmadge did not win its second consecutive Suburban League American Conference title.
The Blue Devils have much bigger fish to fry. And after struggling offensively for much of the season, the Tallmadge players are feeling much more comfortable at the plate.
Let’s just say the coach’s never-ending sermons had something to do with it.
"It has been quite the turnaround for them," Lightel said. "I don’t know what just clicked. I think they were probably getting sick of me saying ‘make adjustments’ after every game.
"We’ve been working a lot in the cages talking about making those adjustments. They made the adjustments they needed to make. It pays off."
The Blue Devils scored all five of their second-inning runs with two outs.
Senior left fielder Gia Spitali got things going when she sliced a double toward the left-field line to score junior designated player Gia Marfy and senior pitcher Emily Pratt.
Senior right fielder Autumn Malicoat and Marfy added run-scoring singles as Tallmadge sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning.
The Blue Devils put matters to rest with six more runs in the fourth.
The Comets (10-10) didn’t exactly help their cause. Coventry committed four errors in the inning and five for the game.
The big blow in the inning came from senior third baseman Paige Leitner, who smacked a two-out, two-run single for Tallmadge.
That was significantly more than enough for Pratt. The senior ace allowed just one harmless run in the fifth.
She scattered five hits and finished with seven strikeouts and one walk.
Marfy, Malicoat and Pratt each had two hits for the Blue Devils and Malicoat and shortstop Jordyn Severns each scored two runs.
The regular season was certainly a forgettable one for Tallmadge, particularly its proud seniors.
Now Spitali, Pratt, Malicoat, Leitner and senior first baseman Hallie Mullett have a chance to collect a certain trophy that has eluded them thus far.
A district title.
"The girls all want it," Lightel said. "The seniors deserve it. They have been a huge part of the program for the last four years.
"They are such a strong group. They deserve to have a good season and we’ve had so many unfortunate things happen to us. But, to be doing this well now, I’m just glad they saved it all up for the end."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_RPC.