AKRON - Following the final out in Poland's 5-1 loss to Tallmadge on Wednesday at Akron Firestone Stadium, senior pitcher Taylor Miokovic looked up to the stands and saw so many familiar faces.
She noticed travel ball teammates such as Canfield's Rachel Tinkey, who was wearing a white Poland jersey with Miokovic's number on the back. Also in attendance were members of the Poland Pride, the youth fast-pitch softball program that Miokovic helped mentor, and the former caretaker of the Poland softball program, Reid Lamport, who led the Bulldogs to a state title in 2011 and a state semifinal appearance in 2012.
"When the game was over, I kind of just took a last look up because I knew we had a lot of support out here," said Miokovic, who will play at Eastern Illinois next year. "Just knowing it was the last time, it was emotional."
The reason the Bulldogs (21-9) were in such a introspective mood after a Division II regional semifinal game was they couldn't figure out Tallmadge (23-3) pitcher Kirsten Lightel, who allowed just two hits and struck out 11 Poland batters. Senior center fielder Phoebe Bush said Lightel was the best pitcher the team has faced this postseason, describing Lightel's movement as all over the place.
"The past few games, we haven't as good of speed (from a pitcher), but she definitely had the movement and speed," Bush said. "She was a very good pitcher."
The only time the Bulldogs managed to get to senior Blue Devil came in the top of the fifth inning after Miokovic led off with a double, Chole Bush reached base on a walk and Kathryn Wilson reached safely on a fielder's choice to make it bases loaded with one for Phoebe Bush.
With the Bulldogs in a 2-0 hole, Phoebe laid down a bunt along the first-base line, and Miokovic beat the throw home to cut Tallmadge's advantage in half.
"Phoebe's been one of the best bunters on our team," Miokovic said. "She's bunting better than she's hitting - it depends on what kind of day it is. Being at third, I knew she was going to bunt it down (toward) first, so I decided to get a very good jump to get that run in."
The Bulldogs still had the bases loaded with one out and a chance to tie the game, but Lightel fanned Amanda Kabesto and Jenna Schettler.
That proved costly in the bottom half of the inning, as the Blue Devils plated three runs to put the game out of reach. Taylor Phillips had a bunt single to lead off the inning, and then back-to-back doubles by Kali Stroud, who also bombed a solo homer over the left-field wall in the third inning, and Joanna Catalano did most of the damage.
Poland coach Matt Campbell said the Bulldogs rued some defensive errors, pointing to the decision on the lead-off bunt single to hope it went foul, only for it to stay foul, and also a missed grab in foul territory during Catalano's at-bat before she belted the two-run double.
"Even though we didn't have errors, we gave them extra outs, and you can't give good teams extra outs," Campbell said. "We should have been out of that inning, but we didn't make the plays that we needed to and the next thing you know, they have a couple of line drives up the middle, to left and added three more (runs)."
Although the season ended with a loss, Campbell said the team should be proud of their season, alluding to a meeting with his three seniors in January where they outlined the team's season goals.
"We met at Chick-Fil-A in Boardman and sat down and made our goals for the season," Campbell said. "The first goal on that list was to go back to regionals and win the district title. So, for them to accomplish that, I think is tremendous."