By Rob Kiser
Miami Valley Today
In two neighboring communities — for different reasons — there was much excitement on the softball diamonds at Bradford and Covington High Schools before the coronavirus brought things to a screeching halt.
At Bradford, the motto for this season may well have been, “Skipp is Back”.
And understandably so.
When junior fireballer Skipp Miller entered the Bradford softball program as a freshman — with a strong nucleus of young talent around her, it looked like Bradford was ready for a four-year run as a state power.
And everything went as planned her freshman year.
Bradford advanced to the Final Four for the first time and lost in the state semifinals in extra innings to the team that went on to win the state championship.
After missing her sophomore season with an ACL injury, Miller was set to return to the pitching mound this spring.
And while Bradford coach Shon Schaffer knows the importance of softball pales in comparison to the seriousness of the deadly virus, from a strictly softball perspective —these two seasons have been tough.
“I feel like the unluckiest man in the world,” Schaffer said. “These opportunities (to coach state championship caliber teams) don’t come along every day. Last year, Skipp had the injuries and now this everything that has happened this spring.”
Excitement abounded in early-season practices before things came to a halt.
“Our practices were electric,” Schaffer said. “When you look at all the runs we scored last year without Skipp (Miller), the kids were so excited. I tried to downplay it to keep them from getting overconfident.”
It is particularly tough for the lone senior, Tristin Booker.
“I have been talking to her every day, trying to keep her spirits up,” Schaffer said.
It is also a strange feeling for Schaffer to not be coaching softball.
“I spend a lot of time at the diamond,” Schaffer said. “I will sweep out the dugouts, I just swept out the day before. That is how I get my walking in. I walk around the diamond.”
Schaffer is hopeful to still have a season.
“Maybe a two-week season and then starting the tournament,” Schaffer said. “That is what I am hoping for.”
Covington coach Dan Cain was headed back to the future.
Cain began his softball coaching career at Covington in 1990 and was coach for 10 years.
After a year off coaching while his wife was in nursing school, Cain returned to the diamonds, making stops as an assistant at Newton, while his head coaching jobs included Miami East, Troy, Troy Christian and Edison State Community College.
“I was looking at coming back and finishing where I started,” Cain said. “This was probably going to be my last job — I don’t know how long it will be, but hopefully for awhile.”
After two seasons where the Buccs didn’t have their typical success, Cain was looking to turn things around.
“They had a season or two of losing seasons,” Cain said. “We were looking to turn things around.”
And a big part of that was seniors Kristie Barnes, Kenzie Long and Morgan Studebaker.
“We had just put a lineup together before practices were stopped,” Cain said. “Kenzie (Long) wasn’t going to pitch as much. She was mostly going to catch. Kenzie is one of the best catchers in the state. We had flipped things around in the infield a little bit. Morgan (Studebaker) was going to move from shortstop to third base and Kirstie (Barnes) was going to move from third to second base.”
While Cain would love to be on the diamond, he feels particularly bad for his three seniors.
“That’s what is really frustrating,” Cain said. “They could lose their senior years. I know softball isn’t that important in the scheme of things, but for a kid in high school, it is. I hate to see them lose their senior years. All the other kids will be able to come back and play.
“Some coaches had asked me if we didn’t have a season, to have a game for all the seniors this summer. I would be all for that.”
And the weather this spring has played a cruel trick on local coaches.
“Normally, in April there would be a lot of rain and games postponed,” Cain said. “With the weather we have had,we would have gotten most of our games in.”
Like with baseball, the Covington softball diamond had some improvements as well.
“We have new caps on the fences and we have a new windscreen,” Cain said. “We had new signage we are going to have fence, indicating all the league titles, district titles, regional titles and Final Four appearances. I go out to the diamond every few days and pull weeds. The diamond is in great shape.”
He just hopes it gets used sometime soon.
“I have already mowed the yard six times this year,” Cain said with a laugh. “I would mow the yard anyway, but I need to get out on the diamond (and be coaching).”
Which will bring plenty of excitement for two neighboring schools.
Contact Rob Kiser at [email protected].
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