Prep softball: CCS on the rise, but Bradford takes Division IV district title

Cincinnati Christian School’s quest for a Division IV district softball championship continues.

The Cougars came up short in the district finals for the fourth time in program history Sunday afternoon, losing to Bradford 2-1 in eight innings at Mason.

“I really wish we could’ve won that, but anything can happen. It was done for a reason,” said CCS freshman Briahna Bush, who pitched a six-hitter with seven strikeouts and one walk.

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“I feel like in our hearts we made history, even though we may not have actually made history. This team has improved so much from the beginning of the season. I’m really proud of them.”

Sophomore catcher Ashley Veldkamp expects the Cougars to keep banging on that district-final door in the coming years. This team is only losing two seniors, Kayla Stacy and Cheyenne Wilson.

“I know it’s going to continue. I really think we’re going to go far next year,” Veldkamp said. “I was feeling energized all day. I know we played our hearts out. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

Cincinnati Christian lost at this level in 2005 (to Bradford), 2006 (to West Liberty-Salem) and 2007 (to Covington). That 2005 contest marked the only other time Bradford has advanced to the district finals.

CCS (15-5) lost this year’s matchup on an error in the bottom of the eighth inning after tying the contest in the top of the seventh.

Veldkamp led off the seventh with a single, stole second and sprinted home to make it 1-1 after the errant throw from catcher Elisa Martinez got past center fielder Chelsea Gill.

Veldkamp’s infield single off Bradford freshman pitcher Skipp Miller’s glove was the only hit of the day for the Cougars. Miller piled up 14 strikeouts.

“I probably even said it out loud,” Veldkamp said when asked about her mind-set heading into that at-bat. “I walked up to the plate and said, ‘You’ve got to help Briahna. You’re her catcher. It is your job to help her out and right now you need to get on base, Ashley.’ And that’s what I did. It was not my best hit, but I got on base.”

Cincinnati Christian coach Steve Gillens said he didn’t hesitate to give Veldkamp the steal sign or to send her around third to score. Veldkamp described the entire sequence as “super exciting.”

“Ashley’s one of our fastest runners. No doubt she was going home,” Gillens said. “She was either going to get thrown out or we were going to tie the game. With a team that’s as aggressive as they are on the bases, you have to match it.”

Bradford (20-3), which had taken a 1-0 lead in the sixth when Miller’s two-out double plated Emma Canan, stranded runners on second and third in the seventh, but took care of business in the eighth.

Gill reached base on a leadoff error, and Canan bunted for a single. Miller hit into a fielder’s choice that erased Gill at third, and CCS tried to get another force out at third on Bailey Wysong’s grounder, but everybody was safe to load the bases.

Bianca Keener then slapped a grounder that was mishandled on the left side of the infield, allowing Canan to cross the plate with the winning run.

“We do a really good job at making contact,” Railroaders coach Shon Schaffer said. “The Bush girl is a really nice pitcher. That might be the season high for our team having strikeouts. But we put the ball in play enough to pull out the win.

“I knew after the first inning that whatever it was going to be, it was going to be within one run. But I felt pretty confident during the game. This is a seasoned team. Even though we’ve got four starting freshmen, they’ve played a lot of travel ball, so they’re as seasoned in these big games as our seniors are.”

Canan was 3-for-4 with a double for Bradford, which will try to notch its first-ever regional semifinal victory Wednesday when it meets Mechanicsburg at 5 p.m. in Greenville.

“You can’t complain about a game like that,” Gillens said. “You just tip your hat to them. If they don’t win state, I’ll be disappointed. But our girls are going to hold their heads up high.”

Miller and Bush have faced each other in summer ball. Bush admitted she was “a tiny bit” nervous as the game wore on, “but my dad was like, ‘This is what you live for.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s right.’ So it was just going with the flow.”

Veldkamp said Bush had her good stuff most of the day.

“It was going well in the first couple innings, but the seventh and eighth innings were the best pitches I’ve seen all season,” Veldkamp said. “They were really moving. Their girls just caught on to her. What could we do?”

Veldkamp is a move-in who played for Kalamazoo (Mich.) Christian last season. That team advanced to the Division 4 state semifinals before losing to eventual champion Indian River Inland Lakes.

“I came from a team that goes to states every year in Michigan, and I came to this team and I was like, ‘Uh-oh,’ ” Veldkamp said. “I am just so proud because I’ve seen how far we have come.”

“It’s definitely been a great season,” Bush said. “I’m going to miss the seniors, but I can’t wait for next year.”

Gillens said he expects bigger and better things for the Cougars next year. He believes the team’s success will lead to a bigger roster — CCS had just 12 active players this season.

“These girls exceeded my expectations,” Gillens said. “They put some things together that made this season exciting. There’s nothing but upside left to come.”

Cincinnati Christian 000-000-10—1-1-4

Bradford 000-001-01—2-6-1

WP — Skipp Miller (20-3); LP — Briahna Bush (15-3). Records: C 15-5, B 20-3

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