WADSWORTH: Freshman Grace Zarley went pitch-for-pitch with one of the best pitchers in the area as host Wadsworth handed Tallmadge its first Suburban League loss of the season 4-0 to prevent the Blue Devils from clinching the league title Monday.
Kirsten Lightel, who struck out 34 batters in 18 innings in a doubleheader against Highland last week, took the mound for the Blue Devils (13-6, 10-1), but was bested by her freshman counterpart.
Through the first five innings, Lightel dominated as anticipated. She struck out seven and allowed only one hit on a fourth-inning double by Grizzlies (15-5, 9-3) junior Bailey Conard.
However, the sixth inning was a different story. After striking out the leadoff hitter, Conard reached after an eight pitch at-bat that proved to be the catalyst for the rally that would ensue.
“She was our spark that inning,” Wadsworth coach Michelle DeAngelis said. “She moved back in the box and turned on an inside pitch.”
Lightel then hit junior Kate McKeen with the next pitch to put runners on first and second before serving up a no-doubt, three-run home run to junior Samantha Ryan, her third of the season.
Lightel required 33 pitches to get through the inning after needing only 60 in the previous five.
With her team facing such a tough pitcher, DeAngelis told her girls “to just pick a song and sing it in their head to relax them a little bit.”
The singing paid off, as Lightel dropped to 11-3 with the loss, while Zarley improved to 8-4.
“Grace has really stepped up as a freshman,” DeAngelis said. “Today she was hitting her spots and doing everything it took to get a big win.”
Tallmadge threatened to score in both the fifth and sixth innings, but was unable to bring the runners home.
The Blue Devils started out the fifth with a single and a walk from their seventh and eighth hitters. No. 9 hitter Taylor Phillips then attempted a bunt to move the runners over, but fouled out to the third baseman.
Zarley then struck out the next batter looking and induced a weak ground ball back to her to end the rally.
The following inning, Tallmadge loaded the bases with two outs before Zarley got a called third strike to deny another scoring chance.
“You can’t leave runners in scoring position the way we did today,” Tallmadge coach Ed Seeker said. “And that’s been hurting us all year. All you can tell them is to keep hitting. Hopefully down the road we’ll get that key hit.”
Wadsworth now sits 1½ games behind Tallmadge in the Suburban League standings with two games remaining.
“We didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm today,” Seeker said. “We’re coming out here 10-0 in the league and all we have to do is win one game and we’ve got the league championship and we’ve got a target on our back. I think we came out a little flat.”
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