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Chris Masse on softball: You gotta have Faith

RALPH WILSON/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Montgomery pitcher Faith Persing winds up during the PIAA Class A quarterfinal game against Tri-Valley on Thursday at Central Columbia. Tri-Valley won 4-3.

LIME RIDGE — Many days Faith Persing beats the sun rising.

Maybe some extra sleep would be nice, but Persing does not like wasting opportunities.

So she rises early, works out and practices softball. Then she attends school. Then she practices and/or plays again.

Persing’s high school season ended Thursday at Central Columbia when Tri-Valley answered a late Montgomery comeback with one of its own and defeated the Red Raiders, 4-3, in a thrilling eight-inning Class A state quarterfinal. Persing went down fighting, throwing a six-hitter and striking out eight against a team averaging nine runs per game. She also went 1 for 2, hitting a key double and scoring twice.

She is a supremely gifted player but not by accident. Persing is a worker and those countless hours produced something special this season. Persing was a force in all areas and has built quite a resume in the race for Class A state Player of the Year honors. Area football has had Dominick Bragalone, baseball Kyle Datres and now softball has Faith Persing producing one of the more dominant seasons of the 2000s.

“They broke the mold when they made Faith. The abilities of her will and desire is something,” Montgomery coach Chris Glenn said. “Faith is one of the hardest working players I have ever had in my life. Faith gets up on her own and does that work on her own.”

Persing finished her junior season 19-2 with a 0.60 ERA. She earned wins against Class AAA state semifinalist Central Columbia, AA semifinalist Williams Valley, District 2 champion Old Forge and previously undefeated Northeast Bradford along the way. She also surrendered just 14 runs and 36 hits in 126 innings.

That’s just the start. Things really get ridiculous when one looks at her strikeouts. Persing broke the single-season Montgomery record with 260 strikeouts, averaging 2.1 per inning.

Want to really be blown away? She also threw seven no-hitters and 14 shutouts. So good was Persing that Tri-Valley (23-2) became just the second team in 21 games to produce more than three hits against her, finishing with six.

“Faith is just an animal,” third baseman Jenna Waring said. “That’s all there is to it.”

Maybe most mind-bending, Tri-Valley was the first team to not strike out at least 10 times against Persing in a game which went more than three innings. She still did strike out eight against a squad which produced 13 runs in its first-round state tournament win. Persing let just three teams score more than a run against her this season and threw three consecutive shutouts, including a no-hitter, this postseason. That included striking out 17 against undefeated Northeast Bradford and 16 more against an Old Forge team which had scored 20 runs in two district playoff wins.

“Even if it’s just a one-run lead, we have faith in Faith,” second baseman Morgen Tupper said following the 2-0 district championship win.

When the pressure was highest, Persing often was at her best. She even outdueled Central Columbia ace Mea Consentino (who threw a no-hitter with 18 strikeouts Thursday against Pequea Valley) in a late-season 2-0 win, striking out 19 Blue Jays. That success in big moments is not surprising either. Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas once said one only feels pressure when he or she doesn’t know what they are doing. Persing knew what she was doing because she already had spent so much time preparing.

“I put in a lot of work. There’s a lot of days I’m getting up before school to work out and Sundays where I’m working, too,” Persing said. “I’m just constantly working at it.”

This reporter has worked at the Sun-Gazette since 1999 and does not want to slight any previous phenomenal area pitchers. What I will say is that Persing’s 2021 pitching performance is in the discussion for most remarkable of the 2000s.

Oh yeah, she hits, too. A lot.

Persing hit .494 this year with an area-high nine home runs. Batting from the leadoff spot she produced 30 RBIs, 37 runs and 16 extra-base hits. Persing was as smart as she was powerful, proving it again yesterday when she scored on a Taylor McRae bunt, forcing a throw to first before sprinting in and producing a good hook slide to make it 1-0. Persing led off both the district final and state tournament opener with a home run before throwing shutouts each time. She again scored the first run yesterday and her seventh-inning leadoff double ignited a two-run rally as Montgomery went up, 3-2.

I often found myself watching Persing in awe the same way I did when Bragaone topped 3,000 rushing yards as a junior. When I wrote Bragalone’s Player of the Year story that season I told readers it was doubtful we would ever witness a season like that again. It was just ridiculous to think anyone could do something like that again.

Then he went out and set a state record with 4,717 yards and 63 touchdowns a year later.

Yes, it will be hard for Persing to top what she did this season as a senior next spring. It also would be foolish to be against her even if she is named the state’s best Class A player.

This is a player as driven as she is talented. She will try helping Montgomery capture a state championship while also purusing her dream which is to play college softball.

That work ethic Persing displays is every coach’s dream.

“I want to do anything I can possibly do to get her to that goal. I’m going to enjoy seeing her on that softball field someday playing in college,” Glenn said. “I know it will happen because of the heart that girl has and the effort she puts in.

“If you give a coach a player like that, you hit the lottery. I am a lucky man.”

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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