The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

July 15, 2014

Tallmadge takes home the gold

State champs edge past Ironton in title game

ASHTABULA — Wilkinson Paving Field at Cederquist Park has seen some great games, some not-so-great games, and some great efforts through the years.

As Ashtabula hosted Ohio’s State Little League Softball Tournament these past few days, a host of things happened, both good and bad.

It all came down to a matchup Monday between winners’ bracket champ Tallmadge (District 3) and Ironton (District 11).

Tallmadge emerged with a hard-fought 3-1 win in the true dogfight of the game.

The state champions receiveda huge break in that bottom of the fourth frame, scoring the go-ahead runs, and held on for dear life to claim the gold.

“Emily  (Pratt, starting pitcher) struggled early with her pitches,” Tallmadge manager Nick Dadich said. “She wasn’t getting ahead in the counts, but she kept pounding the strike zone as much as she could and got it figured out.”

The stage was set for what Tallmadge does best.

Lauren Tecca grounded a sharp single up the middle to start the bottom of the fourth. With 1 out, Pratt bounced a soft grounder up the middle. The ball was fielded cleanly, but the throw to first was not in time, with pinch-runner Malena Cioffi taking second.

Then, the play of the game occurred.

Autumn Malicoat, a left-handed hitter, sent a screaming line drive at third baseman McKenzie McMaster. Catching the ball was no problem, but Cioffi strayed too far from second, thinking the ball was heading to left field. It wasn’t, but by the time McMaster saw what she had in front of her, it was a close play for the double play at second.

Unfortunately for Ironton, the throw was dropped, and pinch-hitter Paige Leitner ripped the very next pitch on a line to right-center to plate 2 runs and effectively decide the contest.

“I always have some type of words from my mom (Lisa) in my head when I go up to hit,” Leitner said. “I knew it was a big situation, but I wanted to help the team.”

She did, and Lizzie Bickar used some smart baserunning in the fifth to set up an insurance run to account for the final score.

She led off with a ground single to left. Katie Hussing laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line, forcing the third baseman to field the ball. Being fleet of foot, Bickar saw that the shortstop was slow to cover third base, beat her to that bag with 1 out, and came home on a wild pitch to close the scoring.

Hallie Mullett, in relief of Pratt, set Ironton down on just a bloop single to center by Mary Beth Burton in the seventh, shutting down 3 other potent hitters of Ironton in the process, and the title was won.

“I was just looking to get to third in that last inning for us,” Bickar said. “I wanted us to get that extra run because Ironton is a great team that can crush the ball in a hurry. I knew if we scored again there would be less pressure.”

Both teams had scoring chances but didn’t get things done in the first 3 innings. Ashley Collingsworth drilled a long fly ball deep into the right-field corner leading off the Ironton fourth. A sharp ground ball went right between the wickets of the shortstop to plate the game’s first run and set up a runner at second base. A walk and bloop single to center by Haleigh Rowe loaded the bases with 1 out, and it looked like Ironton was about to break it wide open.

Pratt had other ideas, fanning the next hitter and inducing a soft comebacker, to bring a huge sigh of relief to Dadich.

“In a big game like this, you must take advantage of every break you get,” he said.

His girls did just that, to the dismay of Ironton manager Troy Sands and his girls.

“We had a couple big mistakes at the wrong time today, but this group of girls are a team I’d love to take anywhere anytime,” he said. “My hat’s off to Tallmadge for playing a solid, smart game today. Their pitchers (Pratt and Hallie Mullett) were good today. They kept us off-balance more than anybody else has, and they did a nice job of playing small ball.

“We can , too, but I’ve also got 6-7 girls on this team who can hit the long ball. They’ve done it here this week, but today, it just didn’t happen for us.”

Mary Beth Burton, Ironton’s top pitcher , was much sharper than she was in yesterday’s losers’ bracket title game with Canfield, a 12-9 Ironton win.

“I tried to follow the instructions I’ve always gotten from my coaches,” she said. “I feel that if I can throw strikes for the most part and keep the game within 3 runs, with our hitters, we stand a good chance of winning. I’m disappointed, but I’m also proud of our whole team.”

With the super start for both teams in this game, it took a break to decide it, and that dropped throw on the possible inning-ending double play at second would have given Ironton a 1-0 lead after 4 innings had it been caught.

It wasn’t, Tallmadge got Leitner’s big pinch-hit double, and Ironton hearts were broken after their first title at any district event and first appearance at the state level.

It was 1 day from smiles to tears for it, but Tallmadge earned this title by keeping within the things that got it to this tournament in the first place.

Kelly is a freelance writer from Jefferson.

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