When the St. Francis softball team makes the trip to Centre County on Wednesday for a 5 p.m. doubleheader with Penn State, there will be some familiar faces returning with the Red Flash.
Bald Eagle Area standout Taylor Parsons and Philipsburg-Osceola standout Chelsea Rex will return to Beard Field, where the duo competed many times against one another for District 6 championships and shots at PIAA championship.
“It’s really exciting to be back,” Rex said, “especially after so many emotional games have been played between both of us. Just stepping on that field gives me chills thinking about what past things we’ve done on that field.”
Parsons added: “It’s great. Going to school far away, you don’t get a lot of fans and family that come watch you play all the time. So it’s nice to come back and to play a big team like Penn State, and to have everyone there to cheer you on, it’s just awesome to come back home and play in front of everyone.”
Parsons, who is in her senior season at St. Francis, was part of Lady Eagles teams that went to back-to-back PIAA Class AA championship games in 2008 and 2009. They dropped the first contest to Loyalsock 3-2 in eight innings and beat Brandywine Heights 2-0.
During that time, Parsons captured first-team all-state honors in 2008 and second-team all-state in 2009. Parsons, who also helped BEA capture two district District 6 crowns, said the thought of playing at Beard Field as a collegiate player never crossed her mind.
“Not at the time, no,” Parsons said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it. Then my freshman year in college, they (Penn State) were on our fall schedule. That’s a game I always look forward to even though I don’t like to look over games. One, it’s cool to play in front of people and two, it’s cool to play in such an atmosphere that the stadium gives. It’s a big game for us every year.”
Rex’s high school career was just as good as Parsons.
Rex racked up 43 career wins in the circle with 478 strikeouts, which is fourth all-time for the Lady Mounties, and she helped lead them to back-to-back PIAA Class AA championship games in 2010 and 2011. P-O dropped the first title game to Nanticoke in a thrilling 3-1 loss in 11 innings, and came back the next year with Rex in the circle and edged Brandywine Heights 1-0.
Rex, who is a redshirt junior, has her name all over the record books for the Lady Mounties. She has 31/2 perfect games to her name — she combined on one with Kelsey Gonder. She is the all-time home run leader with 17 and is tied for third with 91 RBIs.
Since the pair has transitioned to college, Parsons has been steady for the Red Flash while Rex has been battling some injuries.
On the season, Parsons leads St. Francis with a .373 hitting average, 47 hits, 15 doubles, six triples and is tied for the lead in RBIs with 31. Her six triples are tied for eighth in the nation. Earlier this season, she broke the Red Flash career doubles mark when she tallied her 38th.
“I’m very confident right now,” said Parsons, who has two homers and 15 RBIs last weekend en route to earning Northeastern Conference Player of the Week honors. “I feel I’m at the peak of my game right now. There are definitely some things I can improve on always. However, without teammates getting on base, I wouldn’t have had a big weekend that I had this weekend. Our whole team right now is very confident going into the depth of our conference schedule and this Penn State game.”
Rex appeared in 46 games her freshman season and collected 30 hits, scored 13 runs, drove in 21 runs and had three doubles and three home runs. In her sophomore campaign, she played in 36 games getting 16 hits, scoring six runs and driving in 16 runs.
Rex didn’t play last season, struggling through a torn rotator cuff she suffered her senior year at P-O. She played through the injury, but she doesn’t have any regrets.
“I don’t think a lot of people knew that,” she said. “I just didn’t talk about it and took care of what I needed to do. Following my freshman year (at St. Francis), I had surgery on it and came back and I was good but it kind of lingered back again. I had surgery last spring but I’m feeling good this season, so it’s going well.”
Parsons and Rex were once rivals on the diamond but have become great teammates.
“It was very interesting and ironic how things ended up working out,” Rex said. “From my freshman year at P-O, you are brought up in the environment that Bald Eagle is your rival and you have to beat Bald Eagle. We played on a summer ball team after our junior year in high school and now our families are very close and everything.”
“It’s awesome,” Parsons added. “We were such rivals in high school. All four years that we were in high school, either she or I were in the state championship. It was weird at first, but we became the best of friends. I wouldn’t want anyone else as a teammate.”
The former Centre County standouts know they’ll be facing a pro-Penn State crowd Wednesday. However, they know their cheering section will be a lot larger than usual and there won’t be a home-field advantage.
“I’ve never smiled so much like coming back to Penn State and playing in front of people that have helped me get to where I’m at,” Parsons said. “Just going there is a different feeling that we get. It’s almost like a championship feeling, just on the bus ride there and getting to talk to family after the game.
“We will fill up our side of the stands. My whole family comes and Chelsea’s whole family comes. This is probably the last time a lot of them will see me play as a senior.”
The pair also doesn’t feel intimidated paying a visit to a Big Ten field.
“Absolutely,” Rex said. “Besides Taylor and I, I think the rest of the team thinks that as well. I think overall we feel pretty comfortable playing there. We got to play Sacred Heart there earlier this year because our field conditions weren’t the greatest.
“It’s a big Penn State community but with her (Parsons) being from Bald Eagle and me from Philipsburg only 15-20 minutes away we bring a lot of family and fans that like to come and support us,” Rex added. “It’s funny to see some of the people that used to come to our high school games come there for that game and it’s really heartwarming to see that.”