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New York Mills' state softball trip years in the making

Amy Nebosis and the New York Mills Eagles start their state playoff run Thursday in North Mankato. Robert Williams/FOCUS

FARGO — New York Mills pitcher Autumn Roberts remembers her senior catcher Jenna Esala immediately crying. It was an inside fastball in the bottom of the seventh with two runners on from Roberts that was turned on and sent over the left-field fence in last season’s Minnesota Class 1A, Section 6 championship. It gave Sebeka a 3-2 win and the Eagles their 26th straight season without a trip to state.

“It was sickening,” Roberts said. “Hearing it off the bat, you just knew it was over. I saw my catcher started crying and it just made me feel really bad. I was feeling good that whole game and at the end there I got runners on base and it put the pressure on me.”

New York Mills shortstop and Autumn’s older sister, EmaLeigh, felt the life sucked out of her when hearing the bat hit her sister’s fastball.

“It was heartbreaking,” EmaLeigh said. “I remember looking at the scoreboard and thinking there could be a home run here with two runners on. I just remember watching that pitch and as soon as it hit the bat, I knew the game was over because it just jumped off her bat. I remember how hard it was on the seniors and it was their last chance. It felt like everything was drained out of me when I saw the ball go over the fence.”

New York Mills was so ready for 2013, the Eagles shoveled the snow off their field themselves to get it started. After removing the snow, New York Mills cleared off a 26-year state drought, as the 24-2 Eagles are headed to the Class 1A state tournament for the first time in program history. The Eagles will take on Eden Valley-Watkins in the opening round Thursday at Caswell Park in North Mankato.

“I have a group of girls that show up every day and work really hard,” New York Mills coach Bryan Dunrud said. “We were knocking at the door last year and these girls work as hard as any team around. They are like sponges. They show up ready to learn. If there’s a day where we don’t teach them something, then it’s a bad day.”

A program doesn’t go nearly three decades stateless without some heartbreak along the way.

It’s the bitter taste of defeat, however, that makes victory taste so sweet.

After a loss to Frazee in this season’s subsection semifinals, New York Mills was one loss away from making it 27 years without a trip to state. The Eagles beat Parkers Prairie 10-1, Lake Park Audubon 9-0 and got redemption over Frazee

5-0 to get back to the section championship.

After a 12-0 win over Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale in Game 1 to force a deciding Game 2, there was Autumn in a tie game in the bottom of the seventh with two outs, the bases loaded, a bat in her hands and 26 years on her shoulders.

Autumn’s single up the middle made 26 years vanish, put 2012 in the rearview mirror and, more importantly, kept the high school softball careers of five seniors, including her sister, alive to play another day.

“I’m so glad that we made it for the five seniors, especially my sister,” Autumn said. “It’s been fun playing with her. She does so much to help back me up defensively and offensively.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548

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