Sister combination are Hempfield’s Persins of interest
Saturday, June 8, 2019 | 6:38 PM
That is what opposing softball teams can find when they hit ground balls up the middle against Hempfield’s defense.
Waiting with open gloves and instinctive technique are the Spartans’ sister combination of senior second baseman Jessica Persin and junior shortstop Olivia Persin.
If one doesn’t make the play, the other probably will. Maybe they’ll team up for a double play.
They are the Spartans’ Persins of interest.
“If we don’t make the play, we’ll be yelling at each other,” Jessica said. “We always reiterate that hard work in practice pays off. We should always make the play.”
A competitive edge also has helped the siblings become mainstays for the Spartans (18-6), who will play District 3 champion Central Dauphin (23-2) in Monday’s PIAA Class 6A semifinals. The game is slated for 4 p.m. at St. Francis (Pa.) in Loretto.
Hempfield fields one of the WPIAL’s most competitive teams, year in and year out, regardless of sport. Tryouts are cutthroat. Practices are hardcore. Mistakes are magnified and quickly corrected.
It’s all for a reason: the Spartans are seeking a fourth straight state title, which would follow their fifth consecutive WPIAL championship. That makes the Persins a winning combination.
Mistake-free defense can go a long way in state-level softball, but the Persins also provide offense for the Spartans, who edged District 10 champion McDowell, 2-0, in the quarterfinals on Thursday at North Allegheny.
Olivia, No. 1 on the roster and No. 5 in the lineup, had a double in the win. She is hitting .329 with 10 runs and 12 RBIs.
Jessica, who will attend Saint Vincent, has a .354 average with 18 runs, 11 RBIs and a team-leading eight stolen bases and 17 sacrifice bunts. She is No. 11 and bats second. Her three-run homer broke open a 13-3, first-round win over Chambersburg in six innings.
Olivia had three hits in that game.
As one would expect, the Persins want to one-up each other, no matter the contest.
“For sure,” Jessica said. “We’ve played softball, basketball and volleyball against each other, and we always want to win.”
“And track, too,” Olivia said.
There even was a time when Jessica was a pitcher and Olivia the catcher.
But they’re just as quick to root for one another.
“We were playing in a junior varsity tournament a little while back,” Jessica said. “I was at second and (Olivia) was at shortstop. A baserunner accidentally cleated Olivia in the shin sliding into second, and as she was falling, the throw from the catcher hit her in the mouth.”
Olivia lost a few teeth on the play and, “She wasn’t the one crying,” Jessica said, “I was.”
“We have been playing together since we were little so we know each other’s games pretty well,” Olivia said. “We always want to beat each other. Even in practice, if we choose sides, we try to go against each other.”
Both are two-sport athletes. Jess plays soccer, and Olivia is a volleyball player for the Spartans. They are known in all four athletic programs as team players.
“Their parents are top-shelf,” Kalp said. “That’s where they get it. They are role-followers. They want to please the people in charge.”
Jess is the Spartans’ “bat girl,” Kalp said. For the past several seasons, a senior gets the duty to take the bat from Kalp after he uses it for pregame infield warm-ups.
Hempfield’s finest seniors pass the torch each year but they also pass the bat.
Kelsie Hendrick, Jenna Osikowicz and Megan Monzo are past bat girls.
“That bat’s been around for a while,” Kalp said. “It’s a big duty to be the bat girl.”
Jess did not make the “tournament team” as a freshman so she did not play varsity. She was a backup the past two years before settling in as a starter this season.
She and Olivia were courtesy runners when they broke into the program.
“Jess is one of the best we’ve had, but we had too many numbers when she was a freshman,” Kalp said. “She worked her way to where she is.”
Both Persin girls point to the team’s repetitive nature in practice as a high point — one of the key reasons the Spartans are an elite program in the state.
They value the extra time because it produces results.
“It’s like a badge of honor when they compete in all these Mickey Mouse drills,” Kalp said. “Our girls work their tails off.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .