BEDFORD — Millie Thompson is open to change.

When she pitched for Liberty High School in the state tournament last year, she was a brunette.

Last summer, she dyed her hair purple in honor of her future college team: Clemson.

Since then, her hair has been pink, blue, red, gray and white.

“I just like to change things up,” she said.

Before this season began, she became a blonde.

“I’m sticking with blonde because we’re winning and I like the blonde,” she said.

The junior left-hander has led her team to the Class 3 state semifinals for the second straight year.

Thompson, who is 20-6 with a 0.77 ERA, 241 strikeouts and 19 walks in 173 innings, verbally committed to James Madison when she was in the eighth grade.

When she was a sophomore, she decommitted from JMU and opted for ACC member Clemson.

“At the time, when I was young, I wanted to stay close to home,” she said. “Now I don’t want to stay close to home. Things change.”

Clemson, which will make its softball debut next season, landed a talented recruit.

“Having coached in that conference myself, I think she’s got a lot of dynamic things that you need to compete in that conference, including the speed, including the movement, and including multiple pitch speeds,” said former University of Virginia pitching coach Heidi Freitager, who has been giving Thompson private pitching lessons.

‘Dream school’

Thompson’s favorite athlete is not a softball player but a hockey player: Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Her Liberty jersey number is Crosby’s number, 87.

“He’s just such a leader,” Thompson said. “It’s amazing to watch him. I aspire to be him.”

Thompson and her family like to visit Pittsburgh to cheer for the city’s teams. While in Pittsburgh last winter, she got a tattoo on her left ankle of a Pittsburgh area code: 412.

“I’m hoping one day to move there,” she said.

Thompson also has a tattoo on her left leg of a cross and the word “focus.”

“Focus on softball. Focus on doing what you need to do to be successful,” she said.

Thompson has pitched since she was an 8-year-old in rec ball.

“I just grew into loving … everything about pitching — striking people out, being aggressive,” she said. “I really like that you can play with a team, you can love your team and all this stuff, but then again, it’s with you. It all comes from when I throw my pitch.”

When Thompson was in the eighth grade, she accepted a scholarship offer from JMU.

“That was what I loved growing up, but people change,” she said. “Committing to a college in middle school is crazy. Now that I look back on it, I’m just like, ‘Wow, how can you know what college you want to go to before you’re even in high school yet?’”

In March 2017, when Thompson was a ninth-grader, Clemson announced it would add softball in 2020. The school hired a coach later that year.

In February 2018, Thompson decommitted from JMU and verbally committed to the Tigers. Her father, Liberty High coach Mike Thompson, said it was “excruciating” for her to decommit from JMU.

“This Clemson opportunity wasn’t even a thing when I committed [to JMU] in eighth grade,” Millie said. “It’s my dream school now, now that I think about it — being able to go down there and start a new program and be in that big environment.

“I also really want to just move on and kind of try to live out of Virginia.”

‘Go-getter mentality’

Thompson has been Liberty’s ace since she was a ninth-grader.

“She was a pretty tough-nosed kid on the field from a pretty early age,” her father said. “She kind of had that early on, the kind of go-getter mentality and the little bit of swagger she has.

“She wants to pitch in the big games.”

Last year, she helped Liberty win a regional title for the first time and make the state tournament for the first time. She was 21-3 with a 0.96 ERA and 263 strikeouts in 160 innings, earning All-Timesland and all-state honors.

She pitched a nine-inning complete game in the regional semifinals and threw a one-hit shutout in the state quarterfinals.

This year, she pitched a nine-inning complete game with 12 strikeouts in the regional quarterfinals; struck out 11 in the regional semis; threw a five-hit shutout in the regional final; and pitched a three-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in the state quarterfinals. She has made the All-Region 3C first team.

Thompson is batting .359 for Liberty (20-6), whose lineup also includes Taylor Friess (.402); Machenze Flood (.333); Rieley Taylor (.329); Gracie Dooley (.297); Paige Naples (18 RBIs); and Kacey Whorley (18 RBIs).

“In postseason, … the strong survive,” Thompson said. “And the people that can get along for this long. We’re teenage girls, so there’s always that part of it.”

Thompson used to get private pitching lessons from Charlie Daniels, who lives in the Roanoke area.

But since she was a ninth-grader, she has been heading to Charlottesville to get lessons from Freitager, the former UVa assistant. During the summer, she occasionally travels to the Richmond area to get lessons from another coach, Rita Lynn Gilman.

“She’s always had a good amount of speed,” Freitager said. “She’s always had a great amount of movement on her pitches. But the things that have really elevated for her in the last couple years have been her tenacity and drive.”

The 5-foot-7 Thompson has been relying upon her riseball and changeup during the postseason. But she also has a fastball, curve and dropball in her repertoire. Freitager said Thompson usually throws her fastball and riseball 62-63 mph.

“She does do really well with the riseball, but she’s also got probably one of the best changeups and … off-speed drops that I’ve seen in this state,” Freitager said. “The other thing she has going for her is kids don’t see as many lefties, especially with multiple-speed pitches and being able to throw up, down, in and out.

“She’s got a college-level curveball, a college-level riseball, a dominant change and off-speed that really make her very hard to attack.”

Liberty will face Warren County at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Moyer Sports Complex.

“I like the postseason. I like the do-or-die feeling,” Thompson said. “It makes it so much more fun when you win.”

Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

Load comments