CONNEAUT - Take away the top of the first inning and Howland didn't fare badly in its 9-and-10 girls fastpitch state semifinal against Tallmadge on Wednesday.
But the 13-run, 30-minute marathon set the tone for the game and was too much to overcome as Tallmadge ended Howland's season with a 20-9 victory in four innings.
"We struggled with the bats early and they gained some confidence right from the start," Howland manager Mike Pollifrone said. "Tallmadge is a great hitting team. They're very fundamentally sound."
Tallmadge (21-9) sent 17 batters to the plate in the top of the first, and 13 eventually scored. The half-inning included six hits, three walks and five errors.
Tallmadge leadoff batter Olivia Ayers began the game by lining a triple into the gap in left-center field and added a two-run double later in the first inning. She added a single in the third and finished with three runs scored.
The first-inning outburst provided more than enough runs, but Tallmadge also added three more in the second and four in the third. Tallmadge, which will meet Wheelersburg at 6 tonight in the state final, was still stealing bases with a 16-1 lead in the third and eventually led, 20-1.
Winning pitcher Olivia Carey's three-run double in the third completed the scoring for Tallmadge.
Pollifrone said Howland pitcher Sara Price pitched well, and threw strikes, but his team's defense was not at its best.
"That was a great hitting team, and we didn't do anything to help her," he said. "That's unusual for us."
But despite the early deficit, Howland (25-7) wasn't quite ready to call it a season.
Howland scored single runs in the first and third innings.
Taija Pate walked and scored on a throwing error in the first. Leah Pollifrone tripled and scored on Hannah Kowach's RBI groundout in the third.
"That (first inning) was the toughest inning, but we came back pretty well," Howland second baseman Mackenzie Maze said.
Howland nearly extended the game with a seven-run rally in the bottom of the fourth. The uprising included singles by Caroline Hennemen, Maze and Kowach, walks by ReAnn Litz, Gracie Wargo, Pate, Pollifrone and Price. Haley Mink had a two-run triple before Tallmadge finally recorded the game's final out.
Howland's six-hit attack also included a second-inning single by Ariel Tackat.
Leah Pollifrone, who will move up to Howland's 11-12 fastpitch team next season, was glad she and her teammates eventually made a game of it.
"We were a little rough in the first inning, and we just tried to keep each other up after that," she said. "We just said, 'We can still come back. We can still do this. Let's just hit the ball.' "
Mike Pollifrone said he never dreamed his team would play in August, let alone place third in the state tournament.
"If you had seen our first practice of the year, you wouldn't have thought we'd be here today," he said. "We had nobody who had pitched before. I'm very proud of what the girls accomplished."
Several players, including Litz and Maze, made the transition to fastpitch after playing slowpitch softball in years past.
"Confidence was the biggest thing for me," Litz said. "In slowpitch, my coach always pitched it fast to me, so that helped."
Howland's tournament success also can be something to build on in 2010, she added, even if Tallmadge's first inning proved too much to overcome on Wednesday night.
"Yeah, I think it will help us next year," Litz said.