UNIVERSITY PARK - Yes, Brandywine Heights put the leadoff hitter on base in five of the seven innings against Philipsburg-Osceola pitcher Chelsea Rex in the PIAA Class AA Championship.
But that's when Rex, the only Lady Mountie ever to pitch in back-to-back state title games, showed she has the heart of a lion.
Kind of fitting since the Lady Mounties were playing at Nittany Lion Softball Park, which was filled with 1,399 nervous fans, most of whom were P-O fans who had left very early to fight for a parking spot and squeeze into Beard Field.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Lady Mounties catcher Carly Gonder hive-fives pitcher Chelsea Rex after finishing the fourth inning.
St. Francis University recruit Chelsea Rex struck out 11 for P-O.
When it was time for Rex to bear down and get the out in a pitchers' duel with Brandywine's Sara Fronheiser, you could almost hear the snarl of the Nittany Lion that's blasted out of nearby Beaver Stadium loudspeaker during home football games.
Dogged by an arm injury for most of the season and still wearing a long patch on her powerful right arm, Rex only became more determined and craftier when the Bullets reached base. No Brandywine runner reached third base in P-O's 1-0 gutcheck win - the Lady Mounties' second state title at the Bullets' expense in the last five years.
"I knew I wasn't going to strike all of those girls out," Rex said, "but I did my best. I was hitting my locations. I felt real good in warmups, and I was pretty confident. I think confidence is half the battle. If you don't think you can do it, you won't do it. Everybody on our team this year believed we were going to win a state title."
"She was throwing the best she's thrown all season today," catcher Carly Gonder said. "She knew that she had to do it. I'm sure putting on the jersey for the last time probably pushed her that much harder. She did great today."
Rex showed that heart last year when the Lady Mounties lost, 3-1, to Nanticoke in 11 innings. She threw 155 pitches in that game, and she said afterward she was capable of throwing more. If wasn't for the international rule (runner on second base to begin the inning when it gets to the 10th inning), the game most likely would have gone much, much longer.
Rex and Fronheiser had identical strikeout and walk numbers Friday (11 and two). Rex gave up four hits, while Fronheiser gave up five. Rex threw 98 pitches, 64 for strikes, while Fronheiser threw 108 pitches, 70 for strikes.
The only difference was that Rex was able to get out of all the jams. In the second inning, a runner reached second with one out, and she struck out the next two. In the fourth, Jenn Seabourne stole second with two outs, but Rex struck out No. 5 hitter Megan Olsen.
She got some help with some spectacular defense in the final three innings. With a runner on first in the fifth, center fielder Macy Harpster tracked down a Taylor Bortz gapper in right-center field. The one that everybody at P-O will remember is shortstop Mackenzie Wilson making a lunging catch of a Katrina Hughes foul ball that ended the game and set off the P-O celebration.
The sixth inning, though, was Rex's stiffest test. Leadoff hitter Amanda Hess doubled to left field, and after striking out Seabourne, she intentionally walked leading hitter Jenn Dalickas. Brandywine coach Don Roach opted not bunt cleanup hitter Taylor Britzenhoff or steal. Instead, he called for Britzenhoff and Olsen to hit away.
Rex struck them both out. The heart of a lion.
"I felt a little bit of pressure there," Rex said. "My heart starts beating a little faster, but then I just take a deep breath and I think 'Hey, we've got to get this out or the next couple outs. I just focus on the glove and think it's me and Carly and just have confidence in my pitches.
"I go after each batter trying to think it's a battle between me and her, but I know if she gets the bat on the ball, the people behind me are going to work as hard as I am to strike them out. I think if I would have had some pain today, I wouldn't have felt it today."
"They didn't hard a ball hard when they got somebody on base," P-O coach Jim Gonder said. "She's pitched two unbelievable state finals. You would be hard-pressed to find two back-to-back performances like that. We have a lot of confidence in her, and I have a lot of confidence in my defense."
When the championship trophy was hoisted by all the graduated seniors, there was Rex, tears in her eyes, lifting it proudly.
"I'm a little sad the season is over. I wish we could keep playing right now," Rex said. "I don't think anybody or anything was going to stop us this year. Our whole team relied on each other. I had the defense behind me, and Carly's always there for me."
She'll rest the arm a little bit, and then soon, she'll be getting ready to head off to St. Francis University. Maybe by then she'll be able to answer all the texts and phone calls she's been getting from well wishers.
"It's just amazing to have that feeling that everybody is behind you," Rex said.
Surrounded by media members after the game, she was asked what she'll do with the gold medal that hung around her neck.
"I'm probably going to sleep with it," Rex said laughing. "I'm going to hang it up in my room. This is going to be at the top of all of them I've ever had. This one means more than anything I've ever had."
Todd Irwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org