By Josh Brown
GREENVILLE — Bradford softball coach Shon Schaffer constantly needs to remind himself how young his team is.
They simply don’t play like it.
“You would think that we have a group full of seniors — but we don’t,” he said. “We have four starting freshmen. And for them to keep their composure throughout the game, and for (pitcher) Skipp (Miller) to make plays and then be clutch at the plate, that’s something pretty special.”
Miller pitched her way out of a bases-loaded with one out jam in the bottom of the third by striking out two straight batters to end the threat, then her one-out double, Bailey Wysong’s RBI single and a run-scoring error off the bat of Elisa Martinez in the top of the fourth provided the only offense on the day as the Railroaders defeated Mechanicsburg 2-0 in the Division IV regional semifinal round Wednesday in Greenville, giving Bradford its first regional final appearance since 2005.
“It’s been a long while, yeah,” Schaffer said.
Bradford, which improved to 22-3, will face Parkway in the regional championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday in Greenville.
With Miller and the Indians’ Francys King locked in a pitchers’ duel, Mechanicsburg (19-4) had the first real threat of the game in the bottom of the third. Kasey Schipfer singled with one out, and an error on a sac bunt attempt by King put runners on second and third. Audrey Ayers then beat out a bunt attempt to load the bases — but Miller, one of those four starting freshmen, got a called third strike and then a swinging strikeout to get out of the inning unscathed.
“She got to three balls on one of them, too,” Schaffer said. “Again, that is what you would expect from a seasoned pitcher. And I keep going back to it, she’s a freshman and she has that kind of composure. I’m just tickled.”
And in the top of the fourth, the Railroaders made good on the only opportunity they saw against King.
Miller doubled with one out, then Wysong ripped an RBI single back up the middle to score pinch runner Aspen Weldy and give Bradford a 1-0 lead. After King got a popout for the second out, though, Martinez hit a ball to the gap in left-center. Mechanicsburg’s center fielder tracked it down, but it slipped in and out of her glove, allowing Wysong to score an all-important insurance run.
King made sure the Railroaders didn’t extend their lead at all, retiring the final 10 batters she faced after giving up the two runs. And the Indians had one final chance in the fifth inning, beginning with Mallory Blakeman’s leadoff single — which was quickly erased by Bradford catcher Martinez gunning her out trying to steal second.
“Elisa is solid back there,” Schaffer said. “Her and Skipp are an awesome tandem together, and she’s made those plays throughout the year. I was happy, but I wasn’t surprised.”
With two outs in that inning, King singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, then Ayers sent a rocket back up the middle that seemed like it would be an RBI single that cut the lead to one — except that it hit off of King’s back foot, the runner was called out and the inning was over.
“You know, I told my assistant coach that I hurried my pitch call because I was focused on something else happening out in the field,” Schaffer said. “I called an inside fastball — and I didn’t mean to. As soon as I did, I went to wave (Martinez) off, but she’d already called the pitch. And that girl hit it, and as soon as she hit it I said are you kidding me? I didn’t want that pitch … and then it hit the runner. And I thought man, I must have made the softball gods happy. And they helped me out right there.”
After that, Miller buckled down and retired the final six batters she faced, striking out four of them and getting a ground ball back to herself to end the game and send the Railroaders to the regional final.
Miller finished the game with 12 strikeouts while giving up four hits and walking one. King, meanwhile, gave up three hits — two by Miller — walked none and struck out nine.
Bradford will now face Parkway, a 12-2 winner over Newton in the day’s early game.
“I told the girls that they’ll probably put the ball in play a little more than we’re used to, so we’re going to have a good hitting practice followed by a good fielding practice,” Schaffer said. “We’ll be ready for them.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.