There have been many good pitchers to pass through the Philipsburg-Osceola softball program.
From Sue Lamb to Amanda Smith to Kiley Hazelton to Jamie Potter to Brittany Murphy, the Lady Mounties seemingly have a good pitcher ready once another graduates.
But of all the District 6 Hall of Fame pitchers P-O has produced, Chelsea Rex is the only one to lead the Lady Mounties to two straight state championship games.
"I didn't realize that," Rex said. "That's actually really neat. I definitely want to leave my mark and maybe come back and coach or help out. I just love being around the sport."
Rex was a hard-luck loser in last year's 3-1, 11-inning loss to Nanticoke in the PIAA Class AA championship. She'll lead P-O into this year's state title game against Brandywine Heights at 11 a.m. Friday at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park.
That Rex is 16-0 with a 1.29 ERA this season and has led P-O to places no other pitcher has, probably surprises some. She was a backup pitcher early in her career, and she shared pitching duties with Kelsey Gonder last year until she became the pitcher in the playoffs.
"In junior high, I wasn't always the dominant pitcher," Rex said. "They were just like 'You're probably not going to play varsity softball. You might want to find a different position.' I hated being told that, and I wanted to prove everybody wrong. I just worked my butt off, and it's finally paying off."
This year hasn't been without some obstacles for Rex, who started having arm problems early in the season. She had to watch as sophomore Kate Burge pitched. One positive for Rex, P-O's career leader in home runs, was she was still able to hit. She's hitting .451 entering Friday's game.
"It's been a long ride. The whole season has been crazy going through an injury," Rex said, "and I've never done that before. But, it was nice to see Kate out there and how the whole team really pulled together.
"That was probably one of the hardest things I had to go through. At least I got to hit. I don't know what I would have done if I wouldn't have been able to play at all. I really wasn't worried about anything. Kate carried the team and did a really great job. She'll be really good next year if she keeps working."
Rex admits she wasn't very patient when she wasn't pitching.
"I kept asking the doctor 'Can I pitch today? Can I at least practice a little bit?' " Rex said. "I was just so anxious to get back into it. But, they were like 'No, you need to slow down and just do the little things. It was really hard for me not to push full force because that's what I'm so used to doing."
"A lot of people wondered what they didn't just keep her out and wait until the playoffs so she'd be 100 percent," catcher Carly Gonder said. "But, it was her senior year, and she wanted to pitch. There's nothing you can do with a girl who wants to be out there more than Chelsea. She would do anything to throw."
P-O coach Jim Gonder said some good things came out of Rex not pitching.
"The [P-O] hitters got better because they probably felt a little more pressure to get better faster," he Gonder said. "The defense had to play better. It actually helped us a little later in the year."
Rex is starting to round into form at the right time. Her strikeouts are down from last year's 183 to 144 this season, but she's tossed three shutouts in the postseason, including Monday's 5-0 win over Burrell in the semifinals.
"These last couple games, I feel like I'm starting to get into the groove," Rex said. "I feel a lot more relaxed out there and I just have a lot of confidence going into Friday's game."
"She's getting better each game," Jim Gonder said. "She's hitting her spots a little better, mixing her pitches up. She's been pretty tough in the playoffs. It's one of those injuries where you need rest, and, unfortunately, it's not real possible to get much rest right now."
Rex has to adjust her pitching attack following the injury. She relied more on her fastball last season, but that's changed this year.
"Right now, I'm relying a lot on spins," she said. "I've gotten so comfortable with the defense that I don't need to strike everybody out."
"She's getting stronger and stronger every day," Carly Gonder said. "I did a pitching lesson with her this morning, and she just works on stuff she knows she had to fix. She knows what she's doing."
Rex has also had to adjust to working with Carly Gonder, the niece of Jim Gonder, after four-time all-state catcher Taylor Harpster graduated last year.
"Carly worked hard in the offseason and in the preseason also," Rex said. "She's stepped it up. She does a great job behind the plate."
"At the beginning of the year, I didn't know what they were expecting from me," Carly Gonder said, "but I think I exceeded some of their expectations. I was always worried about people saying 'She's playing because she's a Gonder.' But I've showed that I'm out there for a reason."
Rex has Friday's game, the District 6 All-Star game most likely and then it's off to play for St. Francis University, which she committed to early in her junior season.
"I'm really looking forward to playing in college," Rex said, "but I just don't think the chemistry of the team will be the same. We grew up together in the same school, and it will be a big change."
Rex expects she'll have trouble sleeping as Friday approaches.
"I'm overwhelmed and really excited to go," Rex said. "It's awesome that it's so close to here. We're going to have a lot of fans. The whole community is excited for it. The hardest thing about it is it's going to be my last high school game I'll ever play. I think there's going to be some tears after the game, win or lose."