BEDFORD — With the school year now wrapped up, homework, papers and tests are a thing of the past for Liberty High students. For Millie Thompson and the Minettes softball team, though, there was still work to be done Tuesday.
While she gets to focus solely on the game she loves now, taking the field each day, Thompson said, is “still a job.”
From the minute she stepped in the circle Tuesday, Thompson knew exactly what she needed to do before she could call it a day.
“Getting outs. Throwing hard,” she said.
Immediately, she delivered.
Against the first batter she faced, Thompson threw three pitches. They all went for strikes. Four more pitches led to two more outs, and the first inning became a foreshadowing of the frames to come.
The junior lefty was a stalwart in the circle once again, and with her stellar pitching, a stout defense and just enough offense, the Minettes secured a 2-0 victory over Staunton River in the Class 3 state quarterfinals for the second straight season.
Thompson accomplished exactly what she set out to do, and made quick work of batters. She wasn’t especially concerned about the number of pitches she’d throw or working ahead in the count, but she was brilliant on both fronts nonetheless.
Thompson threw just 62 pitches, 36 of which went for strikes. She never threw more than 11 pitches in a frame in her complete-game shutout, and allowed just three hits.
“I didn’t even really think about that. I just thought, ‘do your job,’” Thompson said. “I think I did a really good job of mixing a rise and a change. I thought that they were swinging a lot, so I can throw it over their head.”
SRHS swung at pitch after pitch, chasing practically everything, so Thompson didn’t always have to hit the zone.
“We were chasin’, so we were putting her ahead is what it was. We weren’t patient, but we kind of live by the theory you’ve gotta be aggressive and go after strikes. Her pitches look good coming in,” SRHS coach Scott Cisco said.
Cisco and the Golden Eagles know Thompson well, having met earlier this season and last year in the state quarterfinals as well, but the familiarity didn’t lead to the desired result.
“I don’t know if we’re ever ready for Millie, and it’s been like that for a few years. She’s always in our heads. It’s not that we can’t hit her, but she’s in our head, and we struggle with that,” he said. “… She’s a great pitcher.”
Thompson faced one over the minimum and never let a runner get past first thanks to her defense. In the fourth, the first frame in which Staunton River reached base and recorded a hit, the Minettes turned an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. A frame later, SRHS’ Maddy Buchanan singled to center field, but she, too, was erased on a 4-3 inning-ending double play.
“I was hoping they would play some good defense for me and score some runs, and we did that,” Thompson said. “We won, so I’m really happy about it.”
Liberty (20-6) didn’t have much offense going, either, but did just enough to push across a couple runs.
The Minettes struck for a run in the second as Gracie Dooley scored on an error. Dooley, who singled to left field, ran all the way home from first after Thompson singled two batters later.
Thompson would’ve beat the throw from pitcher Avery Adkins to first baseman Ashlyn Falls either way, but she was helped out by the fact Adkins’ throw went high, and the mistake gave Dooley just enough time to beat the throw home.
An inning later, Kacey Whorley drove in a run on a double that hit off the fence in right-center field.
Visibly frustrated at the plate after falling behind in the count 0-2, Whorley adjusted and connected.
“After I had gotten deep in the count, I shortened up and stepped with her pitch, and I took it somewhere that was significant at that point in the game,” she said. “I know I didn’t get enough lift on it to get it past the fence, but I knew I got enough on it to let her score, so I was happy.”
Adkins threw all six innings, allowed two runs (one earned) on seven hits, struck out five and walked one.
“She threw well. She kept us off balance,” Thompson said of Adkins. “She had a good rise ball, she kept it away.”
But it was Thompson who stole the show once again, letting out her signature scream after striking out all three batters in the seventh on 11 pitches to close the book on another good day’s work.
The Golden Eagles end their season at 15-11, while Liberty moves on to take on Warren County in the Class 3 state semifinals. That game is slated for 1 p.m. Friday at Moyer Complex in Salem.
Emily Brown covers prep sports for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5529.