Even though it might have been obvious to others, there wasn’t an “Aha!” moment where Truman High School senior Paige Parker realized she could be an exceptional softball player, one who could compete at a high level in high school and beyond.
“I just wanted to keep playing, and I loved it so much,” Parker said. “I wanted to help the team as much as could. I had great teammates and great coaches in high school, so that helped a lot.”
Parker sure helped them a lot as well. With her powerful windmill of a left arm and thunderous bat, the future University of Oklahoma player led Truman to four conference and district titles, a Class 4 state runner-up finish in 2010, a state championship in 2012 and a state quarterfinal finish in 2013. She is The Examiner’s Player of the Year for a third time.
As a senior in the pitcher’s circle, Parker was 23-2 with a 0.25 earned run average (11 total runs and six total earned runs) and 342 strikeouts in 166 innings. She pitched seven no-hitters, and it took a no-hitter by Lee’s Summit’s Emily Robinson and an unearned run to beat her and the Patriots in the state quarterfinals.
At the plate Parker batted .600 with nine home runs, six doubles and 33 RBIs. With her numerous extra-base hits and all the walks she received – Truman’s last three tournament foes intentionally walked her all 12 plate appearances – her combined on-base and slugging percentage was 1.774 (Babe Ruth's highest was 1.379 in 1920).
Her stunning list of prep career numbers includes: 93-15 record, with a 0.30 ERA state-record 1,348 strikeouts; .493 batting average, 160 hits, 95 walks, 19 home runs and 114 RBIs.
Years ago, though, Parker was simply a girl who loved softball enough that she wanted to get better at it. The desire to pitch came after machine- and coach-pitch leagues, given the limited options for left-handed throwers.
“It took lot of hard work, and I can attribute that to my parents (Terry and Kim). I really started to fall in love with sport, and we just worked together,” Parker said. “I loved it so much that I wanted to practice all the time. (Dad) still catches me – Mom comes out and watches and he pitches to me. He’s been really helpful with hitting because he used to be a baseball coach (at William Chrisman).”
Truman coach Amy Temples said she had seen Parker play club ball “a bit here and there” in the summer before her freshman year, but “word got around quickly” about her ability during the junior high years.
“I knew probably before she practiced on our field that she was a player you don’t get very often,” Temples said. “What I found out quickly is what a hard worker she was. It doesn’t matter how much natural talent you have if you don’t continue to nurture that.
“Her approach to the game and her respect for the game itself and our tradition at Truman, you don’t find that poise too much at age 14.”
Even though she was a star right away, Temples noted how Parker continued to improve during her high school years.
“She had a great freshman year as a hitter, and she’s had fewer and fewer strikeouts (two as a senior),” Temples said. “More than anything, she’s continued to develop her pitches, increase her velocity a little bit. Her dropball, curve, change – she developed those into perfected pitches, where she felt comfortable throwing them in any count.”
All talent and statistics aside, the Truman mentor has said Parker's best attribute is her humble attitude, as well as how her work ethic rubbed off on teammates.
“I think our teams over the past four years have always had a great appreciation for her, not only athletically but as a person,” Temples said. “She always gives credit to others before taking accolades.
“In terms of work ethic and respect for the sport, all of our teams last four years have worked so well. They feed off that. Players like Brooke VunCannon and Shay Tolbert are going to have to step up (next season), and they’ve had the best example.”
Parker said she will most miss the camaraderie she experienced with teammates and coaches during high school softball years.
“It was a way to have a lot of fun with kids I went to high school with,” she said. “After softball we still are friends and still talk to each other all the time.”
Before heading to Norman, Okla., Parker will embark on one last club softball circuit through the spring and summer with some girls who have been teammates for eight years.
“It's going be hard to not play with them in the summer,” she said.
Also, she plans on giving some pitching lessons to Temples – Amy’s 7-year-old daughter Ali, that is.
“My daughter’s asked me about 65 times over break when they’re going to start,” Temples said. “Paige is pretty much her idol.
“Whenever that happens and wherever, that’s going to be a real treat for me. At that point I’m not a coach. I’m like any parent learning from a great instructor.”