Programmed to win


First Posted: 6/3/2014

BATH TOWNSHIP – It’s all new to the current players but Bath and Tallmadge’s softball programs both have a lot of history in the state tournament.

When the Wildkittens (27-1) play Tallmadge (24-3) at 10 a.m. Thursday in Akron’s Firestone Park in the Division II state tournament, it will be the eighth time a Bath team has gotten to state.

Tallmadge is in the state tournament for a state-record 15th time. Bath won a state title in 2001 and was runner-up in 2000. Tallmadge has seven state championships and was runner-up three times.

But this is Tallmadge’s first appearance at state since 2009 and it has been 10 years since Bath was there.

When Bath takes the field Thursday it will face a pitcher who has been on a roll in the postseason.

Tallmadge senior Kristen Lightel, has allowed only one run in 35 innings in five tournament games – a 1-0 win over Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, a 1-0 win over Richfield Revere, a 6-0 decision over Beaumont, a 5-1 win over Poland Seminary and a 2-0 regional championship victory over Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.

Lightel has a 23-2 record and a 0.61 earned run average. She plans to play softball for Ohio Northern University next season and major in pharmacy.

Tallmadge has survived the loss of its leading hitter, shortstop Sierra Bennett, who was hitting .500 when she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on a pickoff play at first base May 12.

First baseman Mackenzie Gershom (.373) and Joanna Catalano (.365) are the top hitters after Bennett.

With six starters back from a regional semifinal team that had a 27-2 record a year ago, Bath expected to have a very good season.

Pitcher Kimmy Reynolds (25-1 with a 1.14 earned average) has dominated again this season, as she did last season.

Catcher Julia Miller (.459), center fielder Jenna Hollar (.441), second baseman Alyssa Manley (.389), shortstop Kara Dientsberger (.354) and first baseman Ellie Dackin (.229) were also returning starters. Reynolds is a .316 hitter.

Right fielder Carly Frey (.300), left fielder Cassie Best (.288) and third baseman Courtney Helmig (.241) are first-year starters.

The other newcomer is first-year coach Hannah (Rockhold) Slavin, who took over for Laura Ford, who retired after 30 seasons as the Wildkittens coach. Her teams won 630, and she coached Bath in its previous seven state softball tournaments.

When Bath’s offense is operating at its most efficient, the leadoff hitter, Hollar, and Manley in the No. 2 position in the batting order, get on base and put immediate pressure on an opponent.

Hollar has scored 39 runs, and Manley has scored 30 times, setting up the No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters, Miller, Reynolds and Dientsberger, who have all but one of Bath’s home runs this season.

“It’s really important, Jenna and I getting on base, because Julia is a really strong hitter. We have a lot of faith in her and know she can get us in,” Manley said after a 12-3 win over Maumee in the regional championship game.

Bath has been outstanding defensively, too, committing only 21 errors this season.

Slavin said Bath’s success has been the result of “just hard work in the off season.”

“We have great leadership in our four seniors and even a couple of juniors have stepped into a leadership role. We have a great battery, and they take pride in their defense,” she said.

“I think all the girls have improved. We changed our game in a lot of ways. We’re working more small ball than they have in the past, and we’re a little more aggressive on the basepaths. We’ve gotten used to some different elements there.”

Adjusting to those changes and a new coach has helped Bath achieve a nearly perfect record, with only a 5-4 loss to Archbold on April 19 keeping the Wildkittens from being unbeaten.

“She (Slavin) lets us have fun but we know when it’s time to crack down and get serious that we have to,” Manley said.

Reynolds said, “She expects excellence. She expects us to do our jobs and gets on us when we don’t. She’s just really encouraging that we get our job done.”

In the other Division II semifinal, defending state champion Newark Licking Valley (27-4) will play Plain City Jonathan Alder (27-1), in the state tournament for the first time.