Bradford softball team caps historic season with school’s first state title

The Bradford softball team celebrates its Division IV state title Sunday at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED
The Bradford softball team celebrates its Division IV state title Sunday at Firestone Stadium in Akron. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

Railroaders blank Cuyaho

AKRON – The texts started coming in the fifth inning. By the sixth and seventh innings Shon Schaffer’s phone was vibrating almost non-stop with congratulations and celebratory texts.

The Bradford Railroaders’ softball team was still nine outs away from the school’s first team state championship in any sport. But with standout hurler Skipp Miller dealing her 60 mph-plus fastball and a standout defense behind her, Schaffer’s team had Bradford buzzing with confidence.

And for good reason. The Railroaders capped their historic season with the team’s 25th shutout in 32 games, this one an 8-0 victory against the Cuyahoga Heights Redskins on Sunday afternoon at Firestone Stadium.

“I wanted to play more,” said Maggie Manuel. “I was like please don’t end in a run rule.”

Bradford – a village of about 2,170 people that straddles the Miami and Darke county lines – cheered the Railroaders’ return home from Akron on Sunday night with a fire-truck escort.

Three Bradford teams have reached the state semifinals. The 1982 football team lost 7-6 to Fostoria St. Wendelin. The 2018 softball team lost to Jeromesville Hillsdale, the eventual state champs, 1-0 in eight innings. And now the 2021 Railroaders, who broke through with a dominating tournament run.

Bradford (30-2) outscored their seven postseason opponents 64-1. The Railroaders, ranked No. 4 in the final Ohio High School Softball Coaches poll, knocked off No. 2 New Riegel, No. 3 Mechanicsburg and No. 6 Cuyahoga Heights along the way.

Miller tossed her ninth 1-hitter of the season against Cuyahoga Heights. She allowed a two-out single in the first, walked one and hit a batter. The Ohio University signee retired the final 14 batters she faced.

“She’s definitely the best pitcher in the state,” Cuyahoga Heights coach Kyle Manfredonia said. “That rise ball is hard when it’s coming from that low to where it’s ending. It’s like the Montana Fouts girl throwing for Alabama. It’s impossible to hit when it’s coming that fast. She kept it moving and her change-up was sick. She’s good. Really good.”

Miller threw her 12th no-hitter of the season in the state semifinals on Friday in a 11-0, 5-inning victory against New Riegel.

She finished this season with 414 strikeouts, which ranks third in OHSAA single-season history behind Batavia Clermont Northeastern’s Emily Anderson (432 in 2010) and Rocky River’s Leah Black (455 in 1999). Her 12 no-hitters are No. 2 in single-season history behind Richwood North Union’s Jessica Price (15 in 2000).

“Okay, yes, now that I look back and it’s the only hit of the game (it disappointed me),” said a smiling Miller in the postgame interview session. “I should have warmed up more.”

Miller said she battled her nerves through the early innings and felt almost panicked at times with the pressure to win. After that, it was vintage Miller.

“When I got to the fourth inning I finally got my nerves down I felt great. I felt unstoppable,” she said.

Bradford’s offense was, too. New Riegel surrendered a season-high 11 runs against Bradford (and the only team to score double digits). The eight against Cuyahoga Heights was one away from the most runs the Redskins allowed in a game this season.

Nine different Railroaders had hits in the championship game and seven different players scored.

Austy Miller and Abby Fike both had four hits in the state tournament, while Emma Canan and Samantha “Buzz” Brewer each had three. Rylee Canan knocked in three runs and both Millers and E. Canan had two RBI each. E. Canan scored four runs, A. Miller three and Nylani Beireis three and Brewer two.

On defense, third baseman Maggie Manuel had a pair of standout plays in the title game. She chased down a foul ball for one out and charged a slow grounder and threw to Beireis for another.

“(Friday) I was begging just hit me the ball, please,” Manuel said. “Me and Abby (at shortstop) always talk about how we have no action ever. That’s what happens when you have a good pitcher. … I’ve been caught off guard plenty of times. I just try to tell myself the ball could be hit to me at any time. It could happen so I try to keep my head in the game.”

Bradford graduates five seniors from the state championship team with Brewer, E. Canan, Manuel, S. Miller, and Courtney Monnin.

“I’ve got 19 of them that love this game of softball. It was really fun,” said Schaffer, who completed his eighth year as coach. “They make me look like a really good coach because they’re so talented. All 19 of them, all the way through, make my job pretty easy.

“I don’t want this to end. Once we get back home you’ll always have it but not together like this. You just want to savor it.”

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