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Tallmadge softball feeds off crowd, walks off Greenville 6-5 in Division II state semifinals

The Blue Devils erased a 5-0 deficit to reach the state championship game
Tallmadge softball celebration

AKRON, Ohio – With chants of “Let’s go Tallmadge” reverberating off the overhang at Firestone Stadium in the bottom of the seventh inning, Ashlyn Severns smacked a single up the middle and Leila Staszak came flying down the third base line and hit home plate to give the Blue Devils a 6-5 win over Greenville in the OHSAA Division II state semifinals Thursday evening.

“It was crazy, the crowd just erupted when Ashlyn hit the ball and I knew right away,” Staszak said. “I didn't even stop at home. I ran to first and was screaming. I gave Ashlyn a huge hug and then everyone was there and gave her a big hug.”

As she went past first base for the hit, Severns put her hands on her face, almost as if in disbelief.

“The entire at-bat, I was kind of shaking and stressing,” Severns said. “But once I hit it, it was a big weight lifted off my shoulders because I've been in kind of a slump and I think that just kind of brought me back.”

It wasn’t easy for the Blue Devils at all on this evening, however, as Greenville jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the third inning.

But Tallmadge kept fighting back and scored a pair in the third, a pair in the fifth and then one each in the sixth and seventh innings.

“I feel like this team, they put the bat on the ball, so down five runs and I didn't think twice about it, and I hope they didn't either,” Tallmadge head coach Brittany Lightel said. “They know that they can produce runs and we have faith that they can produce runs and they've made it happen.”

But after Tallmadge scored its two runs in the fifth on RBIs by Jocelyn Caffelle and Marley Queen, Greenville was poised to answer right back in the sixth.

Addie Burke doubled to lead off the inning and then Kendall Cromwell dropped a sacrifice bunt. But the Blue Devils made an error on the play and the ball went to right field. Staszak grabbed it and fired it to the plate to cut down Burke and keep it a one-run deficit.

“When I saw that it was an overthrow, I was like, ‘you gotta back that ball up’ because I knew she was going to be coming home,” Staszak said. “So I threw the ball and it was perfect. I was like she's dead in the water. It was super exciting to see that.”

As a sophomore who didn’t play much at the start of the season due to injury, Staszak has shown the ability to make plays at the plate (she was 3-for-3 with a walk on Thursday) and in the field.

“As soon as she came back, we threw her in right field,” Lightel said. “Her speed is crucial both in the outfield and offensively. She's very fundamentally aware of what's going on and that definitely helps her in tight situations and be able to make plays in the field.”

The rocky start could be attributed to the nerves of playing in front of a packed crowd at Firestone Stadium.

“It is even intimidating playing here with when there's not a lot of fans,” said catcher Lexi Gray, who scored twice. “So looking back and seeing all of them, it kicked into reality like we were in the state final four.”

Tallmadge will now play Canfield for the Division II state title on Saturday at 12:30 pm, and the Tallmadge community will no doubt be out in full force again. And the players can’t wait to hear them in the stands.