Bower’s new mindset has her leading Red Flash

Her first two college seasons did not go the way Mikayla Bower envisioned. The 2015 Williamsport graduate watched as many games at St. Francis as she started and hit just .190 last year.

Bower could have attacked reversing her fortunes many different ways. Maybe a different batting stance, maybe a different throwing technique, maybe wholesale mechanical adjustments.

As far as on-the-field aspects, Bower changed nothing. Her perspective was all that changed. And what a change it has produced.

Bower was named the NEC Player of the Week for a second time last week, leads St. Francis in hits, and has helped the Red Flash start their league season undefeated.

“As a college freshman, I wanted nothing more than to earn a starting position, and when that didn’t come as easy as I anticipated I had to really gut-check myself. I figured out quickly that it isn’t enough to be a talented athlete at this level, and that if I wanted to be on that field I had to work for it,” Bower said. “The thing about hard work is it doesn’t always pay off right away. My sophomore season followed in a series of frustration after learning how to give the game everything I had and still not yet coming out on top with that starting position. Coming into this season, I didn’t change a thing since the day I decided to go to work my freshman year, except my perspective.”

As much as anything, Bower rediscovered her passion for softball. Often, it was not the opponent that provided the toughest challenge those first two years at St. Francis. It was herself.

Now Bower is playing with a clear mind and enjoying her opportunity. She has put everything she can into preparing and that provides comfort.

“I walked onto the field my first practice this year knowing that there isn’t a player out there working harder than me and at the end of the day, I had nothing to lose by playing with joy rather than with pressure,” Bower said. “So I quit stressing over that starting position, and I told myself that no matter what my role would be for the season, I would play my way and make the most of my final two years with the game I fell in love with.”

She sure is doing a good job so far. Bower is hitting .284 with a .322 on-base percentage and a team-high 31 hits. Bower also has belted a team-high 11 doubles, driven in 18 runs and slammed a career-best five home runs. That productivity is a big reason St. Francis again looks like a league title contender.

Bower, the 2015 Sun-Gazette Player of the Year, pitched some her first two years but has not thrown an inning this season. Instead, she has been able to focus more on her offense. She also has continued displaying her versatility playing shortstop and catching for the first time since fifth grade.

The last two years might have been frustrating, especially her sophomore campaign, but Bower likely is better for having gone through those tough times. She learned a lot, became stronger on and off the field and is now hitting her stride.

“Some players are fortunate enough to walk into a program with a starting position and never have to experience the battle of the bench. Make no mistake, I tip my hat to those players and they are ones to be admired. That being said, I find myself to be all the more fortunate for finding myself on the bench,” Bower said. “Through the adversity, I learned how to work hard. I learned how to love my teammates, even though I was in constant competition with them. I learned how precious the game is. It’s easy to take innings for granted when you’ve never had to take one off your entire life. Those innings were taken from me for the first time in my life and it wasn’t until I didn’t have them that I realized what a blessing it is to be able to play the game.”

Bower is playing the game better than at any point during her collegiate career. She earned her second Player of the Week honor after going 5 for 6 with a home run, double and five RBIs in a doubleheader sweep of rival Mount St. Mary’s. Bower set the tone for the sweep in her first at-bat, breaking a scoreless tie and slamming a two-run double.

Those are the types of moments Bower enjoys so much more now. Her older sister Alexis put together a decorated run at St. Francis, but two serious knee injuries ended her career after she returned for a redshirt senior campaign this season. The pain of seeing her sister suffer those injuries and the frustration of the past two seasons opened Bower’s eyes. She is seeing everything clearly now and the best might still be coming.

“Innings can be taken from anyone at any moment, so it’s all about how you respond after. Seeing the strength and dedication she (Alexis) gave the game in spite of her injuries gave me the motivation to not give up on my career even when it felt like the easiest option at my lowest points. I can’t talk about overcoming adversity without crediting her for everything she has taught me,” Bower said. “Every year comes with its own sequence of good and bad times, but this year is certainly special to me. Because of my struggle on the bench the past two years, I am able to take the field this year feeling all the more blessed.

“The game isn’t all about playing time to me anymore, because that’s simply a byproduct of so many bigger things.”

EXTRA BASES

Lewisburg recorded one of its biggest wins of the 21st century Thursday when it erased three four-run deficits and edged defending District 4 Class AAA champion Mifflinburg, 12-11. The Green Dragons (2-1) feature a potent offense and, despite losing Saturday at Loyalsock, have a shot at reaching the postseason for the first time in the 2000s. Center fielder Delaney Wagner had six hits in two games last week while Katie Koch homered, hit two doubles and drove in four runs … St. John Neumann (2-0) made another impressive late-game comeback, erasing a four-run, sixth-inning deficit and beating Benton, 23-12. That came a week after turning a seven-run deficit into a 12-10 win at Canton. Kaylin Brown went 4 for 6 and Jenny Mertes, Anne Weller, Maria Helminiak and Breanna Minnier all had three hits … Cowanesque Valley opened its season with an 8-3 win against Troy as Karmen Short and Julia Draper combined for five hits and six RBIs … Emily Watts went 3 for 3 against Bloomsburg in a one-run, extra-inning loss and Megan Ryder had two hits in Saturday’s 11-0 win against Benton as Hughesville (2-1) continued a solid start. Taryn Lambert and Sarah Wertz combined on a 1-hitter in that win … Montoursville sophomore Madison Jean threw a five-hit shutout against Southern Columbia in Saturday’s 4-0 win and has allowed just 13 hits in 21 innings. Sophomore catcher Jordan McCarthy has six hits in three games and had two doubles and a triple last week before being intentionally walked in her last at-bat Saturday … Bucktail rallied from a six-run deficit to beat Muncy, 8-7, despite Indians catcher Makenna Snyder going 3 for 3 with a home run, double and four RBIs … Sullivan County could be poised for a breakthrough season and downed Montgomery, 10-2. Kassandra Houseknecht went 4 for 4 and Jessica King had three hits, including two triples.

Dr. Masse’s Top 5 Softball Teams

1. Williamsport (0-0)

First-year coach Chase Smith might be running out of ways to try and keep his team from getting Cabin Fever. The Millionaires are hoping they finally make their season debut Tuesday at Elm Park against Central Mountain. A team that returns six starters from last year’s district finalist could be busy this week, playing three times in five days against the Wildcats, Hollidaysburg and DuBois.

2. North Penn-Liberty (2-0)

The Mounties entered Monday’s showdown against defending NTL-I champion Wellsboro, having scored 27 runs and pounding out 22 hits. North Penn-Liberty is hitting well throughout its lineup and catcher Mariah Kshir has led the way, going 6 for 8 with a home run, double and five RBIs. Brooke Harvey and Delaney Colton led the way in a 13-5 win last Thursday against defending District 4 Class AA champion Wyalusing. Harvey hit two home runs and went 3 for 5, while Colton was 2 for 3 with a home run and five RBIs. It also is nice having a pitcher like Savanah Doney who has struck out 15 in her first two starts and who has reached base in all eight at-bats.

3. Loyalsock (4-2)

The benefits of playing outstanding competition during a five-game Myrtle Beach experience immediately were evident last Saturday as 11 players pounded out 20 hits in a 19-4 win against Lewisburg. Maegan Reitz and Brynn Dunkleberger homered while four players had three hits each. The bonus from playing down South for a week could help Loyalsock all season and has nothing to do with hitting and pitching. The Lancers developed a strong bond there and seem as close as they do talented.

“You talk about a great experience for them overall. It’s big for team chemistry,” Loyalsock coach Tom O’Malley said. “We went every place together and we get to know everyone better. The girls had responsibilities like they will in college and it was just an invaluable experience and I’m glad we went down there.”

4. Warrior Run (2-0)

Just like the two teams above it on this list, Warrior Run is mashing the ball and scoring in bunches. The Defenders have produced 43 runs and 37 hits in two games and blanked Southern Columbia, 10-0 in five innings last Friday. Four players have hit home runs thus far with Amber Pentycofe and Madi Waltman going deep Friday. Freshman Hannah Michael and sophomore Lauren Watson each have five hits and opposing pitchers have had no spot in the lineup where they can put their guard down. Seven players have delivered multi-hit performances and the defense has played consecutive error-less games.

5. Wellsboro (2-0)

All-state pitcher Alyssa Yungwirth might be sidelined with a torn ACL, but sophomore Cathryn Brought is picking up where the senior captain left off last season. Brought threw a 4-hitter in Thursday’s 7-1 win against Troy and has 17 strikeouts in 11 innings. Wellsboro also is hitting well throughout the order, entering Monday’s North Penn-Liberty game with 19 runs and 21 hits. Kailee Clymer has homered and tripled and her freshman sister Kerrah had three hits and two runs against Troy. Sydney Tremper delivered her second straight multi-hit game and has five through two games.

Players of the Week

Madi Waltman, Warrior Run and Hailey Neal, Wellsboro

Waltman is building off her outstanding freshman season a year ago and threw a no-hitter against Southern while also going 3 for 3 with a home run. Waltman struck out 11 of the 16 batters she faced, homered and improved to 2-0. She has six hits in her first two games. Neal ignited Wellsboro against Troy, going 4 for 4 with a home run, double and two RBIs. Neal also scored twice and was 5 for 6 in her first two games.

Game of the Week

Jersey Shore at Loyalsock

Like Williamsport, Jersey Shore entered the week having not played a game. The Bulldogs have a strong core back from last year and some promising new players. Saturday’s game at Short Park could be both high-scoring and exciting. Jersey Shore rallied from a three-run, fifth-inning deficit to win, 6-3 when these two met last year.

Masse may be reached at cmasse@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at @docmasse.

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