Surrounded by a talented group of veterans on the Cal State Northridge softball team, freshman catcher Jennifer Parker has proved she's no rookie.
And keeping up with the third-ranked Matadors (51-8)--who will face Oklahoma State at 12:30 p.m. PDT today in a semifinal of the College Softball World Series--is no small feat.
Parker, a redshirt freshman who has split playing time at catcher with sophomore Scia Maumausolo this season, has maintained a .400 average through 31 starts this year. She started 16 of Northridge's 24 Western Athletic Conference games and batted a team-high .511.
In the Matadors' regional-clinching 4-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton last week, Parker had two hits and drove in Northridge's first two runs on a bases-loaded double.
Considering Parker's recent accomplishments, it's no surprise that Coach Gary Torgeson started her at catcher in the Matadors' first two games in Oklahoma City. Or, is it?
"It's really a surprise to everyone," center fielder Jen Fleming said.
Apparently, even Parker.
"I wasn't surprised about the first one because I almost always catch Amy (Windmiller)," Parker said. "But the second one surprised me because I thought (Maumausolo) would catch."
Parker, a walk-on from Glendora High who is batting .409 with nine runs batted in, never expected to start this season, period.
Maumausolo was a backup catcher and a full-time designated player who earned first-team All-American honors at utility player last year. She was Torgeson's top returnee behind the plate. Parker was little more than an afterthought.
"(Parker) had a lot more to prove to me than Scia did, because I was going with Scia," Torgeson said. "I didn't give (Parker) a chance in heck to be the starting catcher. I thought she would spot Scia and give her a rest occasionally."
But perhaps at some point during Windmiller's 14-game win streak in which Parker caught every game, Torgeson's view changed.
But the move wasn't based solely on Parker's performance behind the plate. It had as much to do with Maumausolo's performance at the plate.
"Scia's (throwing) release is better than JP's, but JP gets the job done," Torgeson said. "I have in no way given up on (Maumausolo). The fact of the matter is she's hitting the ball better as a DP and I can't afford not to have her bat in the game."
Maumausolo, who might get the start at catcher today, is batting .302, but .338 as a designated player. She has seven home runs and her 44 RBIs are second best on the team. She is two for five with two RBIs as a DP in the tournament. Parker is two for six with no RBIs.
Teammates, including the team's three pitchers, say they have no preference who plays behind the plate. "I don't and I don't think any other pitcher does either," said junior right-hander Kathy Blake (17-6).
Windmiller (25-2), who leads the nation with an 0.30 earned-run average and threw five no-hitters with Parker as her battery mate, echoes Blake's sentiments.
"I'll throw to anyone," said Windmiller, one of Maumausolo's five roommates in an off-campus apartment. "They are both great catchers."
And if Parker doesn't catch another pitch in the series and Torgeson goes back to Maumausolo, will Parker be offended?
"No, because I caught the first two games and we won the first two games," Parker said. "If we go on and Scia catches the rest of the games and we win the World Series, that's fine. It really doesn't matter."