Bradford High School’s first trip to the Division IV state softball tournament ended with a wild pitch Friday.
Skipp Miller’s 0-2 pitch to Keirah Smetzer was in the dirt and got past catcher Elisa Martinez with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, allowing Kaylee Cline to score from third and give top-ranked Jeromesville Hillsdale a 1-0 victory in a state semifinal at Firestone Stadium.
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The defeat brought the Railroaders’ season to a 22-4 close.
“That play ended the game, but not one play defines a game,” Bradford coach Shon Schaffer said. “The team played awesome. I’m really proud of them. I think I told the girls 100 times out there that’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen. Not just of us playing, but just a softball game.
“I think both teams are looking in the mirror to each other, both with great pitchers and both with good hitters. I thought the first run would win the game.”
Cline drew a one-out walk in the eighth and Sydney Long followed with a single to left. A pop-up by Emily Crossen was dropped, but it was ruled an infield fly for the second out and the runners moved to second and third to set the stage for the wild pitch.
“It was supposed to be a changeup,” said Miller, a right-hander and one of four freshman starters for the Railroaders. “I pitched it, and I knew it was going in the dirt right away. I thought ‘E’ would stop it, but she didn’t. My fault. I pitched it in the dirt.”
Cline, a senior catcher, admitted the final sequence was pretty tense.
“I’m not the fastest runner, so I ran as fast as I could to get home,” Cline said. “I don’t even think there was anything going through my brain at that point. I did not hear anything. I was just running home.”
Long and Miller both threw six-hitters. Miller struck out seven and walked one, while Long struck out 13 and walked one.
Miller said Long was very effective at pitching inside and jamming the Bradford batters.
“Today wasn’t our best day offensively, but I came out and pitched my best game and our defense was right there behind me,” said Long, a senior righty. “We all worked as hard as we could and to the best of our ability because we want our season to end how we want it to.”
Hillsdale coach Hannah Fulk said both pitchers were deserving of praise.
“When the going gets tough, Sydney seems to get tougher,” Fulk said. “She’s the senior with the level head on her shoulders.
“(Miller) had a very good changeup, worked both sides of the corners, hit her spots really well. I would say the eighth inning is where she probably didn’t hit her spots as well. Other than that, she was lights out.
“Kudos to them. They’re a very good team. It’s one of the hardest-fought games we’ve played all year.”
Samantha Brewer had two hits and was intentionally walked to load the bases in the seventh for the Railroaders. Bradford stranded seven runners in the game.
Long was the only player with two hits for the Falcons (26-2), who are making their 15th state appearance. They’ve won six state championships, the last in 2010.
Hillsdale will play Strasburg-Franklin (23-5), a 7-0 winner over Defiance Tinora in Friday’s second semifinal, for the title Saturday at 4 p.m.
Schaffer said it’s been a memorable season for Bradford, which is losing four seniors: Chelsea Gill, Hannah Fout, Bailey Wysong and Aspen Weldy.
“This team has polarized the town,” Schaffer said. “They’re like celebrities. We had a float sendoff and a parade and a bonfire, and hundreds of people came out. There’s a few hundred in the town … I think everybody was there. It was unbelievable how these girls have brought the fans out. It’s them. It’s nobody but them.”
WP — Sydney Long (21-1); LP — Skipp Miller (22-4). Records: B 22-4, H 26-2