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Published: May 11, 2009 10:45 pm     

HS SOFTBALL: Tilkins helps make GI tick

By Nate Beutel
Niagara Gazette

GRAND ISLAND — Sam Tilkins calls it an accident. Others might call it fate.

When playing travel softball as a 12-year old, Tilkins threw a pitch on a whim. Four years later, the Grand Island junior is mowing down some of the area’s best hitters with ease. And she’s having a blast doing it.

“Pitching is the most fun thing ever,” Tilkins recently said with a huge smile. “I could do it all day, every day. I love it. I can’t get enough of it.”

Vikings coach Pat Lester shares in Tilkins’ excitement when describing his unique pitching situation.

“It’s awesome to have two top pitchers in Sam and Emily (Thompson),” the third-year coach said. “I never have to worry about who’s throwing because they’re both equally good. I have complete confidence in both of them in any situation.”

Tilkins, meanwhile, said Thompson has been a great role model for her.

“I’ve known her for a long time and I really look up to her,” she said of the senior captain. “It’s been really cool to alternate games with her. It takes the pressure off of us.”

Lester agreed, while adding that Thompson is one of the Niagara Frontier League’s best outfielders, allowing him more flexibility with his lineup when Tilkins is in the circle.

When Tilkins does have the ball, the right-hander possesses a large repertoire of pitches. She said she has seven pitches in her arsenal and has great confidence in four or five of them. That confidence comes largely from her catcher Kasey Sumner.

“She’s like my partner in crime,” Tilkins said of Sumner. “We’ve been together five or six years and she knows all my strengths and weaknesses as a pitcher. She keeps me focused all the time.”

Lester added, “It’s like those two have their own language.”

It hasn’t hurt Tilkins, a pitcher who throws to contact, that GI has shored its defense up this spring either. After struggling in the field down the stretch last season, the Vikings spent a great deal of time in the preseason on defense . It appears to have paid off.

“Sam knows that she doesn’t have to strike everybody out,” Lester said. “These girls have complete confidence in her and she has complete confidence in them.”

Now, Tilkins hopes she and her teammates can continue their successful start to the season and avoid an early exit to the Section VI Class A playoffs.

“We’re all so close that I think this team is special,” Tilkins said.