Editor’s Note: Look for an additional story on Bradford’s softball team in Wednesday’s Miami Valley Today.
AKRON — As the Bradford softball team closed in on the most historic, significant win in school history, you might have thought they would be in a hurry to get the D-IV state championship game Sunday with Cuyahoga Heights over and begin the celebration of the first state title in Bradford school history.
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Get the game over quickly,” Bradford ace Skipp Miller asked with a puzzled look in the interview room afterwards. “No, we wanted to play all seven innings.”
Senior third baseman Maggie Manuel agreed.
“We wanted to keep on playing (even after the game was over),” she said with a smile.
Coach Shon Schaffer agreed.
“I just don’t want to see this end,” he said. “I really haven’t thought about what kind of celebration we are going to have. But, we just want to keep this thing going as long as we can. This is the most talented group of girls I have ever coached.”
Bradford made it clear who the top D-IV softball team in the state was — and there number four final ranking probably makes them the most underrated team in the state.
Not only did the handle second-ranked New Riegel 11-0 in the semifinal Thursday and dispatched sixth-ranked Cuyahoga Heights Sunday, Skipp Miller allowed just one hit in the state tournament — and allowed just one run in the postseason, an unearned run in the regional semifinals.
She finished the state tournament with 22 strikeouts, three walks and a hit batter.
That hit came to the Redskins’ Tess Studniarz in the first inning Sunday.
“Of course, knowing now that it was the only hit, yes (she was disappointed),” Skipp Miller said. “I probably should have warmed up more.”
And Cuyahoga Heights coach Kyle Manfredonia knew his team needed a near perfect performance — and didn’t get that Sunday.
“Obviously, there were some things that didn’t go our way today,” he said. “She (Skipp Miller) is a good pitcher, a really good pitcher. Her rise ball, as low as she starts it and where it finishes — you can’t hit that. Her changeup is exceptional. We have seen pitchers as fast as her, but not with that accuracy. She is kind of like the pitcher for Alabama — you have no chance.”
And then there was catcher Austy Miller, who was 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and all four balls were hit hard.
“I just want to know what lab she was created in,” Manfredonia said in admiration. “Wow.”
And Austy Miller did what she does to give Bradford the early lead they would never relinquish.
“I know I am going to score (if she gets on),” Austy Miller said. “I know Abby (Fike) and Skipp (Miller) are going to get me in.”
She led off with a single and when Fike put down a sacrifice bunt, Miller went all the way to third.
“I looked as I was coming to second,” she said. “The shortstop started to run (to third base), but I knew I could beat her.”
Skipp Miller then followed with a perfect bunt in front of the plate. The Redskin’s throw to home was not nearly in time to get Austy Miller.
“That was the first time I have bunted all year,” Skipp Miller said.
Schaffer wanted to set the tone.
“That is the first time I have given Skipp (Miller) the bunt sign this year,” he said. “I wanted to score. I know we are probably going to score more than one run, but I wanted to get that run in.”
While Julia Harris held Bradford in check through the next two at bats, Cuyahoga Heights had base runners in each of the first three innings.
But, Skipp Miller’s one-out walk to Alize Reyes in the third would be Cuyahoga’s last base runner. Miller retired the last 14 batters she faced.
“It was just nerves (early on),” she said. “I really didn’t get over the nerves until the fourth inning.”
Bradford would then break the game open in the home fourth, scoring four times.
After Nylani Bereis doubled in the fourth and Manuel singled, pinch runner Shay Swick ran for Manuel and took second to put runners on second and third.
Emma Canan put down a sacrifice bunt and their was a collision at first base, with ball coming loose — that allowed both runners to score.
“She just reached for the throw where I was running,” Canan said.
Harris stayed calm on the mound.
“We had a bad collision there,” she said. “That is just one of those things that happens.”
After a double by Buzz Brewer, Bradford had runners on second and third with two out when Austy Miller walked towards the plate — as you could almost hear a collective groan from the Cuyahoga Heights fans.
With good reason.
She drilled a two-run double to the right-center field gap to make it 5-0.
In the fifth, Rylee Canan drilled a two-run single to score Alexis Barhorst and Emma Canan.
“That felt really good to do that in a state championship game,” Rylee Canan said.
Maybe the highlight of the day came in the sixth inning, when pinch-hitter Zoe Brewere drilled a double.
“That was so cool,” Manuel and the Miller sisters all said in unison in the interview room.
“Zoe (Brewer) was so excited,” Schaffer said. “When we re-entered Izzy (Hamilton) to run, Zoe came in the dugout so fast, I don’t think anything could have stopped her.”
After she got to second base, she was clapping and pumping her first.
“That is something I am never going to forget,” Brewer said.
Then, Skipp Miller closed her career at the plate with a RBI single.
“That felt good,” she said. “I was thinking about the fact it was going to be my last at bat in high school.”
And when the throw came to the plate, she took off for second and slid in safely.
“That was my first slide of the year,” Skipp Miller said.
Which, Schaffer could have done without.
“I had my head in my hands,” Schaffer said. “I don’t think we sent you did we Skipp? I think you just took off.”
Miller had a quick reply.
“That’s because I saw where the ball was,” she said with a laugh.
Miller finished off the game with 10 strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter — and the end the players and coaches didn’t want to see, began.
“You know what I will remember most,” Schaffer said. “Maggie Manuel and that big smile she always had on her face. No matter what happened, she always had a smile.”
Just one of the reasons the Railroaders and their fans hate to see a season that will go down in history, come to an end.