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Softball team hopes new faces can shine

By FRANK ACETO Associate Sports Editor Published: March 26, 2017 12:00 AM

With seven state titles and 15 state appearances during its illustrious history, the theme for the Tallmadge softball team is to reload year after year.

Unfortunately, that may change this season.

"It's definitely a rebuilding year," said Ed Seeker, who is 195-86 during his 10-year tenure as the Lady Blue Devils head coach.

With six seniors graduating, the veteran coach has a point.

Leading that list was four-year letter winner Lexi Philen, a shortstop who is playing softball at the University of Rio Grande, center fielder Leslie Hill, who is playing softball at the University of Findlay, right-handed pitchers Brianna Idell and Logan Knowlton, catchers Kali Stroud and Courtney Csernyik and right fielder Rachel McNulty.

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"There are a lot of unknowns," Seeker said. "We're somewhat inexperienced at the varsity level."

Fortunately, Tallmadge, which finished 14-9 overall and 8-4 in the Suburban League American Conference, does have four returning starters back in the mix.

They are three-year starter Olivia Ayres, who will move from second base to shortstop this spring, left-handed batting first baseman Olivia Carey, left-handed batter Madison Rearick, who could see time at both corner outfield spots, and Alyssa Garbinsky, who is expected to be the starting right fielder.

Taking the pitcher's circle for Tallmadge are a pair of sophomores. Right-hander Emily Pratt got some varsity time last spring. Left-hander Hallie Mullett also will see time in the circle.

"Both Emily and Hallie are quality pitchers who I think will do well," Seeker said. "It's nice to have a combination of a right-hander and a left-hander. If I start one, I can bring the other one in to give the other team a different look."

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Two juniors are expected to be part of the Lady Blue Devils' starting infield. They are third baseman Gabbi Gray and second baseman Bri West.

Gia Spitali is expected to be the team's starting left fielder and left-handed batting Autumn Malicoat is planning to replace Hill in center.

"Malicoat is a very good player in center field," Seeker said.

The Lady Blue Devils' starting catcher will be a first-year starter. Expected to handle the duties behind the plate is freshman Jordon Severns.

"We're starting five new players on defense," Seeker said. "It's going to take them a little while to get used to each other. Severns has a good upside. She can control a game. We're expecting big things out of her."

Also expected to play a role this spring are junior McKayla Hajjar (catcher and third base) and sophomore left-handed batter Delanie Dadich (second base and third base).

Seeker hopes to take an extra base on a regular occasion.

"We have some speed at the top of the lineup," he said. "We definitely want to make things happen when we get on base. I don't think we're going to be a power-hitting team. We definitely have some players who are going to have to put a bat on the ball."

Seeker's varsity assistant coach is Joe Deleone. Volunteer coaches include former Tallmadge players Katie Swejk and Brittany Lightel, a first-year coach who played softball at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Mike Swejk, Jim Cottrell and Kim Parks.

The Lady Blue Devils' 2016 season ended with an 11-4 loss to Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary in a Division II district semifinal contest. Highland won the American Conference title last season.

"There's a new coach at Revere and a new coach at Highland," Seeker said. "I would expect Highland and Revere to be pretty good. Copley is a team that is going to challenge for the league."

Since it lacks power and experience, Tallmadge will have to use its savvy to catch opponents off-guard.

"The kids have good softball sense," Seeker said. "Academically, they are one of the smartest teams I've ever coached."

The Lady Blue Devils are scheduled to make their 2017 debut at the Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Tallmadge is set to play Cortland Lakeview March 29 at 7 p.m. The Lady Blue Devils are scheduled to play Columbus Bishop Watterson (1 p.m.) and Worthington Christian (3 p.m.) March 30.

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