BRADFORD – Shon Schaffer knew his team had a chance for a special season, but he didn’t realize how good the Bradford softball team would actually be this season.
Despite having four freshmen in the starting lineup, the Railroaders have made it all the way to the sweet 16 of the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament.
“I was very apprehensive of setting any long-term goals because they are pretty young, starting four freshmen,” Schaffer said of his goals at the beginning of the season. “You don’t want to set too many lofty goals because of the inexperience in big games. But, yeah, I’m pleasantly surprised.”
Those four freshmen – Buzz Brewer, Emma Canan, Maggie Manuel and Skipp Miller – have quickly adjusted to the varsity game and become solid contributors.
“This is my fifth year doing this, and usually the freshmen come in and if they’re really good freshmen they contribute towards the bottom, you know what I mean, they just hold their own,” Schaffer said. “But this year’s freshman class is producing like they’re seniors, and that’s exciting because you’ve got them for three more years.”
Those four youngsters have fit right in with the Railroader veterans – including seniors Hannah Fout, Chelsea Gill, Aspen Weldy and Bailey Wysong – to form one of the best teams in Bradford history.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in Bradford sports,” Gill said. “This feels great because everyone doubts us. Just being Bradford, going this far, is great.”
This is just the fourth time Bradford has won a district championship in softball, Schaffer said, joining the 1986, 2004 and 2005 teams.
“The town’s abuzz, the school’s is excited, and the girls are pumped up,” Schaffer said. “They feel a little bit of the pressure of performing from the community. We had a lot of people there driving all the way down to Mason. I mean a ton, the most I’ve ever seen at a softball game for one side, and I’ve had daughters that graduated from Covington during that three years of final four, and I’ve never seen that many kids or that many parents and the community members at a ball game. That’s pretty special.”
After defeating Cincinnati Christian in the district final on Sunday, the Railroaders were greeted by fans lining the streets as they came back from Mason.
“We got back (Sunday) night, and we were brought in by firetrucks, and the streets were lined with people,” Wysong said.
The Railroaders expect even more support on Wednesday when they play Mechanicsburg at 5 p.m. in Greenville in a regional semifinal game.
“They’ll probably shut the town down to go there,” Schaffer said.
Making it this far in the OHSAA tournament isn’t easy, but having an ace pitcher in Miller has certainly helped the Railroaders. The freshman has a 0.77 ERA this season, striking out 249 batters in 127 innings.
“It means everything,” Schaffer said of having a star pitcher. “The game is 90 percent pitching, and that girl has done an amazing job through summer ball and the other avenues of softball that she plays to be able to get herself to where she’s at to come in and dominate as a freshman. That’s amazing. She’s a phenomenal player.”
Being just a freshman, no one quite knew how well Miller would pitch this season. But just her presence gave the Railroaders hope that this could be a special season.
“With Skipp I thought it might be (this good), but then you never knew,” Weldy said. “But we kept on winning and everything.”
But it isn’t the freshmen alone who have guided Bradford to a stellar season. Junior catcher Elisa Martinez has been a stabilizing force the Railroaders and their freshman pitcher.
“Elisa behind the plate, her and Skipp are a pretty good pair with the leadership that she has,” Schaffer said. “Sometimes Skipp gets all kinds of wiry, and Elisa has to calm her down. So that’s a good match right there to have an upperclassman and freshman working together like that.”
With the help of the young stars, Bradford’s veterans are enjoying the most successful season in their high school careers and trying to appreciate what a special year it’s been while they still can.
“It feels good but sad because I can’t do it again,” Fout said. “But it feels very good to be on this team. Very honored with all the players I have on the field.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4312. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.