FAIRBORN — Russia’s softball squad made it as far as the squad ever has in postseason play and gave defending state champion Bradford a tough contest in a Division IV regional final on Saturday at Wright State University.
But the Railroaders proved too potent to stop. Bradford started hitting late and pulled away to win 3-1 and earn their second consecutive state berth.
Russia, which was the No. 1 ranked team in D-IV in the state coaches association poll for most of the season, finishes 27-2.
“I told the girls to make memories today, and despite the result, I think we made memories this whole journey,” Russia coach Michelle Muhlenkamp said.
Russia also fared much better in its second regional berth. The squad lost 16-0 to Mechanicsburg in a regional semifinal last season.
“They’ve come so far,” Muhlenkamp said. “They’ve just bought into that everything that we define ourselves as. Just having fun and just being there for each other and being focused on every pitch. The game will come to you. You just have to enjoy every minute that you get to be out on the field, no matter what the end result is.
“I told the girls today there’s no other place where you can jump out up and down ridiculously, hit your friends on the head and sing silly songs in the dugout, and have it be socially acceptable. That’s what makes this game fun. We get to be ridiculous goons and have fun and enjoy the game of softball.”
The Raiders will lose four seniors to graduation: Riley Hammonds, Ava Daniel, Sophie Francis and Emily Sunderland.
“They’ve made quite a legacy today for Russia softball,” Muhlenkamp said. “There were a lot of young girls here today watching, seeing what the fun is all about. That’s what’s important.”
The Raiders will return the bulk of their roster, and Muhlenkamp is optimistic the recent success will continue.
“I think the girls know how hard we had to work after sitting here after the regional semifinals a year ago, and they made it to the next game,” Muhlenkamp said. “They know how much harder they have to work next year to make it passed this game.”
Russia took the lead in the bottom of the third. Leadoff hitter Jaela Shappie hit a line-drive single to center field with two outs, then Reese Goubeaux followed with a double to center to score Shappie and give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.
Bradford loaded the bases on a single, an error and a hit batter in the fourth, but pitcher Makena Hoying coaxed a ground out to end the inning.
The Railroaders battled back in the fifth. Izzy Hamilton hit a single on a ground ball to short stop, then Austy Miller hit an RBI triple to center field to tie it 1-1.
Hoying struck out Zoe Brewer, then Nylani Beireis bunted into a fielder’s choice, and the Raiders threw Miller out at home for the second out. Abby Fike hit a single to left, but Rylee Canan hit a pop up in foul territory along the first-base line to end the inning.
Bradford added one run in the sixth.
Remi Harleman hit a single to left to start the inning, then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Lex Barhorst. Alani Canan then flied out to left field, but Hamilton hit a single to left field, which then rolled through Shappie’s legs and allowed a run to score to give Bradford a 2-1 lead.
“We knew we had to play a clean game today,” Muhlenkamp said. “When that ball comes to you, it’s a lot of pressure. I think the girls did a great job. We knew (Bradford) was going to be aggressive and hit the ball. We knew we were going to have to score more than one run to win today.”
Russia intentional walked Miller, then Brewer hit a grounder to short stop Simone Puthoff, who threw to third. Hamilton safely beat the throw.
With the bases loaded, Beireis worked a full count and fouled off several pitches before popping out on a high change up.
Russia threatened in the bottom half of the inning.
Hammonds hit a one-out single to center field, then advanced to second on a passed ball and third on a wild pitch while Hoying was at the plate. Hoying drew a walk, but Kelby Doseck flied out to center field and Puthoff hit a ground out to second base to end the inning.
The Railroaders put the game away in the seventh. Fike grounded out to start the inning, but Canan and Harleman hit singles to right field, then Barhorst hit a line-drive single to center to score Canan and push the lead to 3-1.
Hamilton hit a line out to right to Daniel at third base for the second out, and Daniel easily tagged out Harleman for the third out.
Russia went down in order in the bottom of the seventh.
Bradford (23-5), which won the D-IV state title last year, advances to face Strasburg-Franklin in a state semifinal.
Contact Bryant Billing at (937) 538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.