All eyes focused on Mikayla Bower as she slammed a go-ahead two-run double Saturday against Mifflinburg. The key fourth-inning hit put the Millionaires ahead to stay as they captured the Williamsport Tournament championship with a 9-6 win over Mifflinburg.
And at that point, the stage belonged to Bower.
When your sister is the reigning Class AAAA Player of the Year and one of the best players in Williamsport history that is no easy accomplishment. Anyone who follows local high school softball knows who Alexis Bower is, but the word is out now on her younger sister Mikayla.
She can play too.
"(Her mom) Trish and I really try and let Mikayla know that she's not in her sister's shadow. She's her own player," father and Williamsport coach Quint Bower said. "She has a great swing at the plate. She's very sound in the field and she does a good job moving the ball around pitching. She's a good little ball player."
Mikayla has proven that in her first two years playing high school softball and did so again as Williamsport captured the eight-team tournament championship. The sophomore threw 4 1/3 scoreless innings and struck out six in a 10-0 semifinal win over Pittsfield Sunderland before providing that key double in a six-run fourth-inning rally against Mifflinburg.
Mikayla also played error-free defense at shortstop and right field, showcasing her versatility as much as her talent. It was the latest in a string of strong performances from the sophomore who missed more than half of last season after tearing ligaments in her knee at Jersey Shore. Earlier this season she had 4 for 4 and 3 for 3 performances in wins against Wyalusing and DuBois.
"Last season was my first season playing varsity and I didn't get to play the whole thing so I'm itching to come out and just perform to my ability," Mikayla said.
"Seeing her come back and doing as well as she is as a sophomore is great," Alexis said. "She is going to do great things the next two years. It will be great for her."
There is no sibling rivalry here. Both sisters push each other but neither is trying to outperform the other. Both are each other's biggest fans.
That was especially evident when Mikayla was injured last year while swinging. Alexis, who tore her ACL as a freshman, immediately was crying and appeared more upset than Mikayla about the injury. The lone voice Mikayla heard after going down was her sister's and Alexis helped her throughout her recovery just like Mikayla had for her two years earlier.
Now both sisters are healthy and treasuring this season. Alexis graduates soon and will play at St. Francis next season. They are as close as sisters can be and realize this is a special time.
And Williamsport opponents are learning that both are special players.
"There's no better feeling than having a sister on the field," Mikayla said. "I've told her before, when I'm playing shortstop I'm making every play for her because I want to make this season the best season she'll ever play because this is the last season we'll ever be together."
"It's going to be tough leaving her and the rest of the team as well. Playing with my sister is a great opportunity," Alexis said. "I won't be around next year so seeing her play right now is great and it puts a smile on my face and I love it."
Forget shadows. Both Bowers can play. They are quite a sister act.
GEE WHIZ: Loyalsock pitcher Kayla Gee has made a sudden impact. The freshman has won seven games and was brilliant in big wins over South Williamsport and Central Columbia last week. Gee was outstanding under pressure in comeback wins and induced a game-ending double play with the bases loaded in the seventh inning against Central in a game that put Loyalsock (11-3) alone in first place in the HAC-II.
"Even though she's a freshman I don't consider Kayla a freshman at all," shortstop Allie Pagana said. "She's always there for us and we're always there for her and she pulls through with wins for us."
Three days earlier, Gee allowed only one run over the final six innings and let up just one run with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth as Loyalsock came back in the seventh to win 8-3.
Gee was sensational in defeat last Friday against Williamsport too. She struck out seven and took a shutout into the fifth inning against the two-time defending District 2-4 Class AAAA champions. She matched Alexis Bower pitch for pitch throughout the first four innings and made a statement about how bright her future could be.
"Kayla Gee is a very good pitcher," Quint Bower said. "I told her (Friday), in my opinion, in three more years she is going to be right where Alexis is. She's a really good player."
ONE AT A TIME: South Williamsport completed a season sweep of Montoursville last Thursday as Anna Steer threw a two-hit shutout in a 2-0 win. Rachel Floyd, Kalynn Wheeland and Kelsey Gantz added two hits each. It was exactly the performance coach Scott Stugart was looking for following a heart-breaking loss to Loyalsock two days earlier.
It also was proof that the entire team is buying into the coaching staff's philosophy. The Mounties (8-5) will be the most battle-tested team in the District 4 Class A field if they qualify. The team starts several young players and the coaches have wanted them focusing on the next game more than what they might do come playoff time.
Playing in the rugged HAC-II there really is no other way to do things.
"The way we're working is you have to have long-term goals but you have to take it a game at a time," Stugart said. "We try not to dwell on anything as far as Single A and playoffs because we have to have short-term goals first."
The HAC-II features not only last year's Class A and AA state finalists but also division-leading Loyalsock and perennial title contender Central Columbia. Nearly every game is a challenge. Short-term that makes things difficult. Long term that could make things especially promising.
The postseason can wait, though. The Mounties first have to qualify and also want to be playing their best when it matters most. The young players are progressing nicely and veterans like Floyd, Wheeland, Gantz and Sarah March, to name a few, are having big years. The recipe for success this there, but the only thing South is focusing on right now is its next game.
"It's a game at a time mentality and they've embraced it, especially the seniors," Stugart said. "They've actually told a few of the girls to keep their focus shorter. I'm glad they are thinking long-term but every game is a battle in this division and we have to be ready for each one."
1. Williamsport (10-2): The Williamsport freshmen starters had a big weekend and were pivotal to the team's success Saturday as the Millionaires won 10-0 and 9-6. Kalia Moore went 4 for 6 in those wins while McKenzie Tebbs had two hits against Mifflinburg. Shataya Buxton crushed a long walk-off three-run double against Pittsfield Sunderland and Chloe Jennings played well in center field while belting a pinch-hit single in the title game. Four freshmen starters reveals how young Williamsport is. Last weekend's performance also reveals how quick they are progressing and how bright the future might be.
2. Loyalsock (11-3): The Lancers only losses last week were close ones to tough Class AAAA teams, Williamsport and Conwell Egan. Those games can only help them moving forward. The team's most important game was against Central as the Lancers beat it for the first time since 2009 and broke a tie for first in the HAC-II. Loyalsock overcame a 2-0 fourth-inning deficit and winning in such dramatic fashion gives it a boost as the playoffs approach. Loyalsock has won seven straight league games and has a shot to win its first HAC-II title. The team has made big-time improvement since last season when it needed to win its final regular-season game to reach districts.
3. Warrior Run (11-2): Some players dream of throwing a no-hitter. Taylor Parker threw two on consecutive days last week. And that was the second time she has done that in two seasons. Parker threw a perfect game against Hughesville before settling for a no-hitter against Shikellamy. She now has 16 career no-hitters. Just as important, Parker helped Warrior Run bounce back after a heart-breaking 3-2 loss to Central Columbia. The Defenders delivered 19 hits against Shikellamy and 10 were doubles.
4. Milton (8-1): The Black Panthers are hitting as well as any District 4 team. They have scored at least seven runs and delivered at least eight hits in every game. Taylor Batman is throwing and hitting well. She combined on a no-hitter with Dani Lincoln against Shikellamy and had three hits, double doubles and three RBIs in two wins.
5. Muncy (11-1): The Indians took firm control of the HAC-III last week, defeating Benton 3-1 and opening a two-game lead. Muncy can win its first league title since 2009 with at least three wins in its last five league games. The Indians also made an impressive statement Friday, pounding CMVT 16-0 in three innings. CMVT entered 7-2 and was a few days removed from downing Montgomery. The offense is being boosted by different players and Liz Shank, Crystal Good, Nicole Harer and Tierney Shaible had multi-hit performances last week. Caitlin Dauberman homered against St. John Neumann and hit a 3-run double against CMVT. Pitcher Amanda Kustanbauter is tied for the area lead in wins and has thrown eight shutouts.
Player of the week
Alexis Bower, Williamsport: The senior pitcher put together one of the best week-long performances this reporter has ever seen. Bower won four games and allowed no runs in 27 innings pitched, throwing a no-hitter and two one-hitters while allowing only three hits and striking out 55. She struck out 16 of 18 batters she faced in two relief outings Saturday and did not allow a hit. Bower also went 7 for 13 and hit a home run and triple.
Game of the week
Milton at Jersey Shore: If today's game is as exciting as the first one this season fans will be happy. Milton overcame an early 7-0 deficit and scored five runs in the bottom of the seventh to win, 11-10. These perennial District 4 Class AAA powers have won every district championship since 2006 and no game in this series has been decided by more than two runs since 2006.