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by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
They took a major step toward greatness last season and most of their starters are back again this year.
Yes, it's safe to say life is looking pretty good for the Lady Blue Devils.
The Tallmadge softball team has its sights set on winning a second consecutive Suburban League title. The Lady Blue Devils won their first league championship since 2010 with a 12-2 record last year.
Tallmadge also hopes it can go a little further in the postseason. The Lady Blue Devils finished 18-9 after losing a 1-0 decision to Field in a Division II district semifinal contest.
But eighth-year head coach Ed Seeker, who is 139-59 at Tallmadge, will worry about the postseason later.
Right now, he's going to do everything he can to lead the Lady Blue Devils to another league title.
"We're sure going to go hard at it," Seeker said. "Do I think we can win the Suburban League? Yes. Is it going to be easy? Nothing is easy. If everyone buys into the fact that we're all in this together, we can win a league title."
Tallmadge lost three seniors, including two starters, from last year's team.
Morgan Stack started at first base.
Aly Wagner was the Lady Blue Devils' everyday second baseman. Also graduating was outfielder Angel Sciana.
While Seeker is excited about his team, he, like most coaches in Northeast Ohio, has been downright frustrated with the weather.
"It's hard to get a really good idea where kids are playing because we can't get outside," Seeker said.
Fortunately for Seeker, he knows who will be on the mound. Senior right-handed pitcher Kirsten Lightel, the team's ace last year, returns after finishing 15-5 with a 0.36 earned run average in 2013. Lightel plans to continue her softball career at Ohio Northern University in Ada.
"Kirsten is, undoubtedly, one of the top three or five pitchers in the area," Seeker said. "I think she's the top pitcher in the Suburban League. She had a lot of success last year. She has set a lot of records at the high school."
Lightel leads a group of eight seniors and 10 returning varsity players. While such numbers are extremely encouraging, they also can pose some problems for the head coach.
"All of the seniors can contribute," Seeker said. "We're going to work with the seniors and get them in when we can. It's a matter of them accepting their roles and contributing when they do get into a game."
The rest of the senior class comprises left-handed hitting catcher Tori Young, left-handed hitting first baseman Mackenzie Gershom, Sierra Bennett, who takes over at shortstop after playing center field last year, right fielder/right-handed pitcher Nicolette Williams, center fielder Taylor Phillips, left fielder Brandy Wakefield and outfielder Emily Bratnick.
"Sierra led off last year," Seeker said. "I'm not sure if we're going to go that route this year. She may drown down to the No. 3 hole.
"Taylor Phillips is leading off at this point. Emily is one of the fastest kids on the team."
Junior third baseman Joanna Catalano returns to the starting lineup as does sophomore Lexi Philen, who will move from shortstop to second base this season.
"We solidified our infield by moving Lexi to second and Sierra to short," Seeker said. "They really strengthen our team up the middle. Taylor is fast and has a good arm in center and Kirsten is very good defensively."
Sophomore switch hitter Leslie Hill could see time in either the outfield or infield positions.
"Leslie is primarily an outfielder who is very fast," Seeker said.
Rounding out the squad are sophomores right-handed pitchers Brianna Idell and Logan Knowlton and catchers/outfielders Courtney Csernyik and Kali Stroud. Seeker said Idell and Knowlton also can play other positions.
"They will be rotating from varsity to junior varsity," Seeker said. "I don't believe that you should bring kids up and have them sit on the bench. They're not learning anything if they're sitting on the bench. We have 30 players in the whole program."
Since Williams is dealing with some pain in her arm, Seeker said that Idell and Knowlton could see some time right away in the circle.
Seeker's varsity assistants are Vicki Hartz and Joe DeLeone. The junior varsity head coach is Willie Davis. Kate Swejk, a 2009 Tallmadge graduate who played on the state semifinal team during her senior year, is a volunteer coach.
"Willie and Vicki have been with me the whole time," Seeker said. "This is Joe's second year with the team and he's a die-hard Tallmadge guy. He used to coach Tallmadge Little League.
"I have a great group of support people. I have more help this year than I've ever had."
Seeker believes it could be a four-team race for the Suburban League title.
"I think it will be Wadsworth, us and Nordonia," he said. "If I had to pick a fourth team, it would be Highland."
The Lady Blue Devils were scheduled to open the season with a doubleheader against Berlin Hiland March 29 on the road. Results were not available at press time.
They are set to host league rival Revere April 2 before heading to Copley for a league showdown April 3. Both games are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.
Tallmadge is set to head to Cortland Lakeview High School to play a doubleheader with Warren Howland and Ashtabula Edgewood April 5. First pitch is scheduled for 11 a.m.