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Pitching thrives in stretch run for NYM, Norman County

Fargo - For five section tournament games, the high school softball teams of New York Mills and Norman County stared elimination in the face. Unfortunately for elimination, senior pitchers Hannah Poehler and Autumn Roberts stared right back.

And neither blinked.

A year after helping New York Mills punch its first trip to state in 26 years, Roberts threw 13 innings for two wins on May 27 and 20 more innings on May 29 for three wins in elimination games to send the Eagles back to the Minnesota Class 1A state tournament to be held Thursday and Friday at Caswell Park in Mankato.

“I can say I was excited and nervous at the same time, but I also felt confident,” Roberts said.

It took nearly 600 pitches for Poehler to get five wins and send Norman County to the state tournament for the first time for either Ada-Borup or Norman County West – the two schools that make up the co-op.

Poehler threw 372 pitches and pitched all 21 innings on May 29 in three elimination games to help the Wildcats capture the Class 1A, Section 8 crown.

“My arm is still sore today,” Poehler said Monday. “That night I felt like I couldn’t even move it.”

Poehler’s arm may have been a bit swollen, but the feeling of being the first to get to state made all the pain worth it.

“It’s unbelievable just knowing that we did something that no one at our school has ever done before,” Poehler said. “Pushing each other to do our best and focusing and working hard in practice…it all paid off.”

Roberts has been everything New York Mills (22-4) has needed this season. Outside of her 1.85 earned run average and 15-4 record in 117 innings on the mound, she’s batting .622 with a .969 slugging percent and .673 on-base percentage to go along with 31 RBIs and 42 stolen bases. In 98 at-bats, Roberts has struck out once.

“She has a mental edge,” New York Mills coach Bryan Dunrud said. “She’s been around the game her whole life. At this stage of the season, you need a workhorse, and that’s what she’s been for us. As a coaching staff, when you have a rock you can build off of it.”

Norman County coach Amy Johnson picked a good year to take up softball. She had no softball experience coming into this season. She never coached or played.

Now Johnson has a 20-3 team headed to state for the first time ever. Handing the ball to her younger sister Roberts, who is 16-3 with a 3.22 ERA on the mound, made things pretty easy to get used to her new sport.

“I knew she had two games in her,” Johnson said. “I went up to her after the second game and she said, ‘Yeah, I want this.’ It was probably pure adrenaline, but I wasn’t going to say no. I wasn’t going to take the ball from her. She was a warrior for us and her teammates had her back.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one with some family support. Roberts had her cousin, McKenna Roberts, who is the only other senior on New York Mills, as her catcher and her sister, Rhiana Roberts, as her backup at pitcher in case things went wrong.

“I was confident because I knew I had a backup if I wasn’t doing well,” Autumn said. “This year is a different feeling. Last year was crazy, but it’s different. We lost five seniors and the only other senior is my cousin and my catcher, so it was just awesome to do this with her.”

As for state, there’s no doubt who will be on the mound for both teams on Thursday. New York Mills will take on New Ulm Central at 11 a.m., and Norman County will take on New Life Academy at 1 p.m.

“I’m ready to go,” Poehler said.

So is Autumn Roberts.

“I’m ready,” she said.

Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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