by Frank Aceto | Associate Sports Editor
All season long, Nick Dadich had a simple message for his players.
"I've told the kids not to play for their parents or their friends," he said. "I told them to play for themselves."
Oddly enough, the Tallmadge Little League Softball All Stars head coach decided to scrap that message Aug. 11.
"I told them you would do the city a lot of good if you win this game," Dadich said. "The people of Tallmadge have donated $20,000 to help us get here. I told the girls that allowing the people in Tallmadge to witness a game on ESPN2 would be a great way to pay them back."
Tallmadge, the Central Region champion, is heading to the semifinals of the Little League Softball World Series. Tallmadge advanced with a 4-1 victory over Puerto Rico, the Latin America champion, Aug. 11 in Portland, Ore.
With the win, Tallmadge earned a date with Robbinsville, N.J., the East champion, Aug. 12 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Robbinsville advanced with a convincing 11-1 win over West champ Chico, Calif.
"Robbinsville might be the best 12-year-old softball team I've ever seen," the coach said. "They do everything well from top to bottom. They're smooth on defense, they're well-coached, they're versatile, they have some power and they have great pitching."
Dadich said left-hander Hallie Mullett will start in the pitcher's circle for Tallmadge (14-2). Prior to the Little League Softball World Series, Nick Dadich's hope was to get a game on national television.
Now it's time to think about other things.
"Our goal has changed," the coach said. "We don't want to just be a part of it. Our immediate goal is to win [Aug. 12]. It's not to win the World Series."
Tallmadge, which was the home team Aug. 11, got on the board with a run in the bottom of the first inning.
Jordyn Severns led off the inning with a double and scored on a run-scoring single by Lauren Tecca.
Tallmadge made it 2-0 in the second.
Autumn Malicoat drew a leadoff walk, stole second base, reached third on a ground out by Delanie Dadich and scored on a single by Kenna Loveless.
The ball hit by Loveless went deep in the hole toward second and third. It was fielded by the Puerto Rico shortstop, but her throw was not in time. Loveless delivered her clutch hit with two strikes in the count.
Tallmadge used aggressive baserunning and got some help from a few defensive miscues by Puerto Rico to score two more runs in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead.
Puerto Rico, which outhit Tallmadge 6-4, scored its lone run in the fifth. Right-hander Emily Pratt got the win in the circle. She struck out four batters and walked three in six innings of work.
"It was not Emily's best performance," the coach said. "Whenever she got in trouble, she did what great players do and dug deep. She did not have her best stuff, but this was one of those games where the defense came through."
Pratt ran into trouble in the top of the sixth.
Puerto Rico had the tying run at the plate after its first two runners reached base.
Pratt struck out the next batter and with runners on first and third, made a nifty stab with her glove at a hard-hit ball up the middle. Once Pratt retrieved the ball, she threw to Delanie Dadich at first for the second out.
The runner at third was about halfway down the line, but Delanie Dadich alertly threw home. The runner wound up heading back to third.
"I think that second out took the wind out of [Puerto Rico's] sails," the coach said. "Emily has great reflexes. We made three nice plays in a row."
That last "nice play" came courtesy of Tallmadge's second baseman, Loveless, who got to a ground ball and threw to Delanie Dadich at first for the final out.
Nick Dadich said his team celebrated for a short time, but he knows there's no rest for the weary. The toughest challenge yet is awaiting his team less than 24 hours later.
"Up and down, they have to give their best effort," the coach said. "They have to look their teammates in the eyes and say, 'Let's beat this fantastic team.' "Robbinsville has eight girls back from the team that finished third in the world last year. They have mercy-ruled every team they've played thus far in the World Series."