An electrifying extra inning win over archrival Canfield in the district championship had the Poland softball team feeling amazing heading into the Division II regional semifinal on May 28 at Akron's Firestone Stadium.
That feeling turned sour when the Lady Bulldogs battled 23-3 Tallmadge in that regional semi tilt. A season ago, Poland plastered the Lady Blue Devils 10-0 in the regular season. Last week, Tallmadge got its revenge and then some.
Although the local girls trailed just 2-1 in the fifth inning, Tallmadge took control of the contest by scoring three unanswered runs in that frame to oust Poland from the playoffs 5-1. The Bulldogs finished the season with a 21-9 record.
Tallmadge had a 2-0 lead as the fifth inning started, but the Bulldogs finally built some momentum off sizzling starter pitcher Kristen Lightel. Poland had the bases loaded when senior Phoebe Bush came to the plate. Stunningly, Bush was given the sign for the suicide squeeze, and she successfully executed that bunt to bring home fellow senior Taylor Miokovic, making the score 2-1 Tallmadge.
Calling a squeeze in that situation may reek of desperation, but the way Lightel was throwing, any script on how to win a tournament game was thrown out the window.
Lightel was simply lights out last Wednesday. She tossed a two-hitter, struck out 10 while walking just one batter. In a one-and-done format like in the state tournament, great pitching usually stymies powerful hitting and, unfortunately, Poland was left powerless versus Lightel.
''(Lightel) kept us off balance,'' said Poland head coach Matt Campbell after the loss. ''She's a phenomenal pitcher.''
Following the squeeze bunt, Lightel fanned the next two Poland hitters to end the fifth inning. In essence, she also ended the Bulldogs' campaign at that time as well.
Also coming to an end were the careers of some stalwart Bulldogs. Bush had a nice few games during Poland's tournament run and will take her bunting skills to Ohio Wesleyan next year.
To say Miokovic made the most of her high school career would be an understatement. She doubled and scored against Tallmadge. She stepped up this season as a staring pitcher after three sensational seasons at first base and ended the year with a 14-5 record. She was a four-year starter for the Bulldogs. She won four out of five games in regional games at Firestone Stadium. Miokovic will attend and continue her playing career at Eastern Illinois.
One other senior on Poland's roster was Bridget Bobby, who was able to get into the tournament game in the seventh inning as a pinch hitter.
Even though three Bulldogs will bolt before next year, coach Campbell will have a good collection of talent returning.
This is Poland, afterall, where reloading is more the norm than rebuilding. No doubt if the Bulldogs have to battle the Blue Devils again in 2015, the score may more closely resemble that 10-0 whitewash in 2013 than the disappointing one on display recently.