• Schaffer himself was optimistic about playing for a district championship, but little else, with four freshmen starting. They’ve since won a regional title and make the program’s first trip to the D-IV state tournament, joining the 1982 football team as the only team sports to reach state.
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• The Railroaders didn’t win the tough Cross County Conference (Newton did), but are the last team standing.
• The team’s standout pitcher, freshman Skipp Miller, gave a verbal commitment to play for Ohio University before throwing one pitch at the high school level.
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• And in last week’s D-IV regional title game, Bradford run-ruled Parkway – ranked No. 2 in the final state poll – 12-1 in six innings.
“Talent for talent we had a real good chance of going a long way,” Schaffer said. “But starting four freshman – with composure and stress and nerves – I thought maybe we could get to a district final game.”
They did. And then some.
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In the regional final every Railroader batter had a hit. Miller allowed two hits to a Parkway team that run-ruled Newton 12-2 in the regional semifinals. And Newton run-ruled Bradford during the regular season.
Parkway had the bases loaded with one out. Miller struck out the next two.
“That’s what you get from a senior and she’s a freshman,” Schaffer said of Miller, who has 0.77 ERA.
“The game is 90 percent of the person in the middle of the field. To get far in the state tournament you have to have that hammer. At the beginning of the year I knew we were going to special because we have that girl. … It’s been a magical year, that’s for sure.”
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Schaffer credits junior catcher Elisa Martinez in providing stability and experience to the Railroaders, especially with four freshmen including Miller.
“She keeps Skipp together most of these games,” Schaffer said. “She’s cool under pressure. Her composure is key to all of this.”
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Prior to the regional final, Schaffer told his Railroaders to prepare for a scoreless marathon that could last at least 13 innings. Instead the Railroaders sprinted to a quick lead and never let up. The big blow was senior shortstop Bailey Wysong’s grand slam – after Parkway intentionally walked Miller to load the bases – that gave Bradford a 6-0 lead.
Schaffer admits he’s not sure what to expect in the state semifinals after this season’s exploits. Bradford (22-3), ranked No. 10 in the state, takes on No. 1 Jeromesville Hillsdale (24-2) 10 a.m. Friday at Akron Firestone Stadium.
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While Bradford makes its first state appearance, Hillsdale goes for the 15th time overall. Hillsdale has won six state titles with the last coming in 2010.
Hillsdale enters the state semifinals behind senior ace Sydney Long, an Ohio Dominican recruit who struck out 14 in a 3-0 defeat of Mohawk in the Akron regional title. The Falcons have outscored tournament opponents 37-0.
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“I am looking at this like I wouldn’t be surprised if the nerves got to the girls and it became a whose going to score first in the 10th inning?” Schaffer said. “But after Parkway, that was a really good team, I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if we did something like that, too. I’m just like a fan waiting for the game.”