New York Mills junior Tiffany Thompson doesn't necessarily like pitching. She certainly wasn't a big fan of it when she first started this softball season.

The reason she wanted to pitch for New York Mills was because she knew that was a position the Eagles needed filled. Rhiana Roberts pitched every inning of the Minnesota Class 1A state softball tournament last season for the Eagles, leading them to their second straight state title. In fact, Roberts pitched 55.2 of the 63 innings New York Mills has played in the state tournament the past four seasons.

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The last two seasons have ended with Roberts jumping in the arms of Thompson, her catcher. Roberts graduated, so someone needed to step into the circle.

That someone was Thompson, despite only pitching 16 innings in her career for New York Mills.

"She's not a selfish player," New York Mills coach Bryan Dunrud said. "She'll do whatever is best for the team."

Thompson is 13-0 in the circle this season with a 1.62 earned-run average, striking out 104 in 82.1 innings for the Eagles. She'll lead New York Mills into its seventh straight appearance at the state softball tournament. The top-seeded Eagles will begin the quest for their third straight state title at 1 p.m. Thursday at Caswell Park in Mankato, Minn., against South Ridge.

"She's willing to help out and put time in for things outside of school," Dunrud said. "She's just a genuine good person. She's dependable and when she's asked to do something, or even if we don't ask, she'll be the person who sticks around and helps out, whether that's in sports or around the community."

New York Mills will have a different look, after graduating five seniors, four of which were starters, including Roberts. Thompson says the team embraced the challenge.

"Before the season, we said we're going to make it to state because everyone overlooked us because we lost basically our whole infield and really good bats," Thompson said. "Our whole team wanted to prove to people that it wasn't just them, it took a whole team to win the last few years."

The Thompsons have a large front yard on their farm just north of New York Mills. That's where Thompson remembers playing catching with her older brother for hours when she was young. Her dad would join and they would have one person pitch, one hit and another chase down balls.

"It's just always been part of my life," Thompson said.

That's not the only thing, as she's played varsity volleyball since she was a sophomore, varsity basketball since she was in eighth grade, varsity softball since seventh grade and varsity trapshooting the past two years. She has to park across the street from school on Wednesdays in the spring because her gun can't be on school grounds and she goes straight from softball practice to trapshooting.

"My parents just really started me and my brother into a lot of sports," Thompson said. "They encouraged us, but didn't force us. You build relationships, try new things, go different places and meet new people with sports. I just fell in love with all the sports that we played."

Thompson wears No. 11 for softball for her brother. Well, kind of. He was No. 12 for baseball and she knew he would be mad if she picked the same number, so she wanted to do the next even number, but No. 10 was too small, so she ended up with No. 11.

"When we were really young we'd always throw a ball," Thompson said. "We'd throw stuff in the house and then when we got older we'd play catch for four or five hours a day, see who could throw the longest."

As much as she's helped New York Mills fill a need at pitcher, Thompson has almost done more at the plate. She's batting .573 with 37 RBIs and five homers this season.

But it's in the circle where Thompson is the most proud.

"I worked my butt off this summer," Thompson said. "I knew this year was my year to switch to pitcher. This year I really wanted to prove a point. I wanted a chance to pitch because I wanted to put it out there that I can do it."

(Editor's note: The Tribune will have coverage of both New York Mills and Detroit Lakes as part of our extended coverage at state softball June 6-7)