The serious knee injury nearly derailed her high school softball career before it even began. So much was expected from freshman Alexis Bower three years ago, but everything was put on hold when she tore her ACL playing basketball.
In that instant, nobody knew what the future held. Nobody knew if Bower would ever be the same athlete. But out of disaster rose one of the best players in the storied history of Williamsport's program.
The injury hurt physically and mentally but only made a determined, talented player more driven. The injury was not an ending but a beginning. The ending was as sweet as could be.
Alexis Bower plans to play softball next year at St. Francis in Loretto.
Thursday, Bower was selected as Pennsylvania's Gatorade Player of the Year. It is the most prestigious award a state softball player can earn and past winners in other sports have included athletes like Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, Mike Mussina, Abby Wambach and Candace Parker.
"That was probably the most devastating part in high school, having that injury. I was out eight months and losing that year really hurts athletically," Bower said. "Coming back I felt like I was behind and it gave me more drive to make sure I was exercising a lot and running a lot and it gave me more desire and helped me today to have that drive."
That drive runs as deep as one of Bower's mammoth home runs. The Williamsport graduate has immense talent but so do a lot of other players. What has made her stand out, what has made her a soon-to-be three-time all-state selection is the will to win, the desire to always play better.
That is why Bower would come home from a hard practice the last few years and run three or four miles. That is why she arrived early and stayed late for practice. That is why she worked year-round while also maintaining an A average, being a member of the National Honor Society and excelling at cross country.
That is why she is now the state's best player.
"I have not coached another girl that has the competitiveness and fire that she takes on to the field and the energy that she displays," Bower's father and Williamsport coach Quint Bower said. "I think what sets her apart is when she's in that (pitching) circle if the opposing team does get a walk or a hit or has some people on base, she has that extra gear to get into and get out of it. That's the amazing thing about her. That's that fire and drive that comes from within high-level athletes."
Bower has stood out since playing her first varsity game as a sophomore. In her three years, Williamsport captured three Central Penn League championships and two District 2-4 Class AAAA titles while winning 55 games. Other players performed well, but Bower was the engine that powered each successful team, winning nearly every game in the circle while leading in nearly every offensive category the past three seasons.
As a junior, Bower improved upon her terrific sophomore statistics and was the runner-up for Gatorade Player of the Year. She needs about as much motivation as a dog does to chase a cat, but his lit just another fuse. It gave her one more reason to take a few more swings, throw a few more pitches, take some more grounders and run extra miles.
"Going and looking at the stats from last year, they were very comparable, but I understand why she beat me," Bower said. "I wanted to win and that gave me the extra edge."
The result was one of the best all-around seasons in Williamsport history. Few batters could hit Bower and few pitchers could get her out. She went 17-3 with a 0.45 ERA and struck out 225 in 138 2/3 innings while allowing only nine earned runs despite facing more than 500 batters. Playing against a difficult schedule in the state's toughest classification the St. Francis-bound pitcher also hit .623 with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. Oh yeah, she also excelled when playing at shortstop and helped Williamsport go 18-3, while winning 13 straight games en route to the district final.
Bower was so good in the circle that her throwing shutouts was not news. Her allowing a run was. She threw eight straight shutouts at one point and had scoreless inning stretches of 51 and 30.
In her last 87 innings, Bower allowed two runs. She also threw back-to-back no-hitters on the same day against New York power Union-Endicott and Class AAAA state qualifier St. Hubert's and finished the year with four no-hitters and three on-hitters. In three years, Bower also allowed just one run in the district playoffs. The tougher the game, the better the opponent, the better she performed.
Many teams feared pitching to Bower because she so often made them pay. She hit a home run in six straight games at one point and combined her immense power with blazing speed.
"I felt like I went out with a big bang," Bower said. "It was good way to go out."
"What she did was remarkable when you think about the competition that we played on a regular basis," Quint Bower said. "I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who put up those kind of numbers against those kinds of teams we played. She has that competitive drive and she does not like to lose."
Bower will take those qualities to St. Francis where she is expected to pitch, play the field and hit. After dominating high school, Bower has a new challenge to attack. A starting job is not assured and Bower will have to work for everything she earns.
She feels right at home.
"Going in I want to be able to keep up with everyone or out-do them. That's my thing, I love being a hard worker," Bower said. "Even if I'm not the most talented, I will outhustle you, outwork you. I will work my butt off even if it even means getting just a little better."
And that is why in high school softball, Bower became the best.