Tallmadge softball bounces back from COVID-19 pause with sectional final win over Springfield

Ashley Bastock
Akron Beacon Journal
Tallmadge first baseman Lani Gray gets set to catch a popup in a game earlier this season against Barberton. Gray and the Blue Devils earned a 14-0 sectional final win over Springfield on Thursday, May 13, 2021 at Tallmadge High School.

Watching Tallmadge softball’s 14-0 sectional final win over Springfield on Thursday afternoon, you would have no idea that the Blue Devils were only three days removed from a 10-day-long COVID-19 pause.

“I didn't really know what to expect here for today,” senior starting pitcher Samira Dadich said. “But our team has so much potential that I knew we could pull it together and act like we had been doing this for the last 10 days.”

Tallmadge lucked out having a bye in the first round of their Division II playoff bracket. Had they not, the Blue Devils would have had to play their first round game on Tuesday, their first day out of quarantine.

Instead, they were able to schedule a league game against Aurora on that day, and ultimately got run-ruled themselves, 13-2.

While the Blue Devils would have liked to pick up the conference win in that game, the loss ended up being a blessing in disguise, allowing Tallmadge to shake off the rust without the added pressure of a win-or-go-home playoff scenario.

“Losing that bad to Aurora knocked some of them down a little bit," coach Brittany Lightel said. "But they knew they had to have this game. I think some people thought senior night was going to be a distraction, but I really think it got them more pumped up. I think it was more exciting for them. They knew people were going to be here, I had 18 girls dress, so I feel like the camaraderie for senior day really pumped them up and they brought the energy.”

Tallmadge scored 14 runs on 15 hits in the game, jumping out to a quick 10-0 lead thanks to nine second-inning runs. Every Tallmadge batter got on base at least once in the game. Zoe Rensel had three RBI, while Dadich, Lexi Gray, Ashlyn Severns, and Emma Garbinsky each had two.

Dadich didn’t give up a hit and walked four in 4.2 innings in her first start following a shoulder surgery in March. She and Riley Jackson threw a combined no-hitter with Jackson taking on the final batter as Dadich opted to be subbed out with her fellow seniors.

Tallmadge also committed no errors in the game, especially key considering Lightel was concerned about her team’s fielding after the long layoff.

Again, the Aurora game from two days prior proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“It would have obviously been amazing to win, but it is what it is,” Lightel said. “We knew we had a tournament game coming up, but them just being able to get some live balls hit at them was, number one, a shock. They can't hit themselves balls. They can hit on their own, and they hit decently. But their fielding in that game, it looked like they hadn't fielded anything in 10 days.”

During the 10-day layoff, the team wasn’t allowed to get together for workouts or practices, but Lightel told players that they could use the varsity field and equipment for any individual work they wanted to get in. Ironically last week’s weather made it difficult for players to do much, but they made the best of the situation working individually with hitting coaches like they would during the offseason, and the team remained in communication thanks to a group text thread.

“We would hit for an hour, take some defense,” senior first baseman Lani Gray said. “I think that was important because if we went 10 days without doing anything we would have been rustier.”

Lightel joked that they were so eager to get back from the pause that she thought about having a midnight practice on May 11 for the team’s first day back.

With the Aurora game on Tuesday, Tallmadge couldn’t actually work out the kinks in practice until Wednesday. That afternoon they held a three-hour session with about two hours devoted just to field work and live situations with runners on base.

Overall, given the work her team still managed to put in over the last week and a half, Lightel said she wasn’t shocked by Thursday’s turnaround performance.

“They're so into the game, they've been playing for so long, they all put in work,” she said. “I was hopeful that they could turn it around quick.” 

No. 8-seeded Tallmadge's next tournament game will be in the Canton district semifinal against No. 4 Norton at 4:30 Tuesday at Canton-Willig Park.