By Kyle Shaner
BRADFORD – To get past Jeromesville Hillsdale in Friday’s state semifinal game, the Bradford softball team would need to do something no team has accomplished this tournament season.
Hillsdale, the No. 1 ranked team in the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association’s Division IV state rankings, hasn’t given up a run thus far in the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament. But that doesn’t scare Bradford, which has grown accustomed to accomplishing unprecedented feats this season.
“It’s just another team,” Bradford freshman pitcher Skipp Miller said. “Don’t think of it any more than that.”
Bradford has gained confidence throughout the season as the Railroaders have posted a 22-3 record and earned the No. 10 ranking in the Division IV state poll. They’ve made it farther in the tournament than any team in program history and energized their community.
“It’s been amazing how much they’ve supported us you know financially and coming to the games,” Bradford coach Shon Schaffer said. “It’s been amazing how many people has been at the last couple games.”
Hundreds of fans made the trip to the Railroaders’ district championship game at Mason then their regional tournament games in Greenville. Now they’ve taken up donations to rent a charter bus for the team to take to Akron.
“I didn’t think there would be all these people supporting us,” freshman Emma Canan said.
The Bradford community has waited a long time for a team as good as this year’s softball squad to support.
School officials went scouring through trophy cases and record books this past week to find any teams in Bradford history that could match the accomplishments of this year’s softball squad. The only other teams they found that reached the state semifinals of an OHSAA tournament was the 1946 boys basketball team and 1982 football team.
But the Railroaders know if they want to keep this magical journey going, it’s going to take a great effort against a Hillsdale team that has won six state championships in program history and has another solid group this year.
“It will be the best team we’ve faced so far, which you can understand because they’re one of the last four teams,” Schaffer said. “But they’re really fast, probably faster defense than Newton, which I think Newton is impressive being fast, and I think they’re a little bit quicker on defense. And as far as hitting goes they’re pretty stout through their four and five batter, and it doesn’t drop off much through the end of their order. And they’ve got a couple really fast left-handers, and it’s going to be a challenge for our defense.”
Hillsdale also has a strong pitcher who hasn’t given up a run in tournament play.
“She’s a really nice pitcher,” Schaffer said. “She throws really hard and places the ball extremely well. That’s probably her strong suit is her ability to place it inside and outside, up, down. From what we saw she had very good control, and we’re going to have to get the count in our favor so we can hit our pitch otherwise we’ll be hitting her pitch, and it gets a little bit more difficult.”
Bradford can counter with its own ace pitcher in Miller, who as a freshman has an ERA of 0.77 and already is verbally committed to Ohio University.
“I think if we do what we did with Parkway, I think if we put the bat on the ball like we can, I think good things will happen,” Schaffer said. “I don’t think Skipp with let up too many runs so just like every game we’ve played this year I tell them if we can score a couple runs we have a shot.”
Bradford showed it can put up runs against top competition in the regional finals. Parkway entered Saturday’s regional championship game ranked second in the state rankings, but Bradford was unfazed and run-ruled the Panthers 12-1 in six innings to secure a berth in the state final four.
“It was actually really surprising because we were told all week that it wasn’t going to be a blowout,” senior Bailey Wysong said. “We were going to maybe score one or two runs then when we started putting runs on the board it was outstanding.
“I think once one person started hitting we all knew that it was possible.”
Against Parkway, Bradford got some momentum at the plate that carried throughout the lineup. The Railroaders will aim for that same success against Hillsdale.
“I think if we’re on our game we’ll be fine,” junior Elisa Martinez said.
Bradford will get a chance to prove itself when it plays Hillsdale at 10 a.m. Friday at Firestone Stadium in Akron in the first of two Division IV state semifinals. The winner of that game will play either Defiance Tinora or Strasburg-Franklin at 4 p.m. Saturday in the Division IV state championship game at Firestone Stadium.
Schaffer doesn’t want his team to look too far ahead, though, and is taking things day by day and even hour by hour. Regardless of the outcome this weekend, the Railroaders already have shown him how special they are.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team,” Schaffer said.