Decade’s best No. 1: Alexis Bower got better every season at Williamsport in softball
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in a series looking back at the top 10 softball teams, coaches, games and players from last decade
Alexis Bower figured she would make a fantastic freshman debut and help Williamsport softball restore its luster.
Then fate intervened. Before she could throw her first pitch, Bower tore her ACL in the winter of 2010 while playing basketball. Her freshman season was over before it started. It was a staggering blow for an ultra-competitive player. It could have broken Bower and stunted her softball progress.
Instead, it just fueled that raging competitive fire, turning it into an inferno. Bower did not wonder what could have been, instead focusing on what could be. And over the next three years she would become an area all-time great.
“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 in 2013. “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 power of that drive was every time Bower played from 2011-13. Williamsport features a storied tradition, one that includes three state championships. That Bower ranks up with the best who ever played there reveals everything about how she responded. A dominant pitcher, a prolific hitter and fabulous shortstop, Bower earned first team all-state honors three times, was named the 2012 Class AAAA Pennsylvania Player of the Year and concluded her scholastic career by earning the Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year Award. That award is the highest given in each respective high school sport and other winners have included Derek Jeter, Peyton Manning, Mike Mussina, Abby Wambach and Candace Parker.
That is how good Bower was. Bower topping a list that includes area legends like Taylor Parker and Amanda Daneker speaks volumes, too. Playing in the state’s biggest and toughest classification, Bower went 52-10 in three years, compiled double-digit ERAs each time and struck out 595. One could start a good debate, though, by asking if Bower was a better pitcher or hitter. She hit over .500 for her career, blasted an area decade-high 20 home runs, drove in 74 runs and scored 66 times despite frequently being pitched around.
“What she did was remarkable when you think about the competition that we played on a regular basis,” Bower’s father and former Williamsport coach Quint Bower said after Alexis earned Gatorade Player of the Year honors. “I think you would be hard-pressed to find someone who put up those kind of numbers against those kids of teams we played. She has that competitive drive and she does not like to lose.”
Williamsport did not lose much once Bower was there. The Millionaires suffered their first two losing seasons in 2008 and 2009 before reaching the 2010 District 2-4 Class AAAA semifinals. Bower drove Williamsport back to the top, helping it capture back-to-back district championships in 2011-12 and return to the final in 2013. The Millionaires reached the 2011 state quarterfinals and won at least 18 games every year Bower was there.
The three-time Sun-Gazette Pitcher of the Year was immensely talented, but what helped her reach such an elite level, one that carried her to an outstanding collegiate career at Division I St. Francis, was her fierce work ethic. Never complacent, always seeking progress and displaying a will that would make Rocky Balboa smile, Bower went from good to legendary.
“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 means getting just a little better.”
Bower grew better every season at Williamsport, pretty amazing considering how good she was during her debut 2011 season. She quickly became the team’s best hitter, batting .418 with four home runs, 21 RBIs and 20 runs. Still, it was Bower’s pitching which especially helped Williamsport win its first district championship since 2007. The hard-throwing right-hander went 17-3 and struck out 150 in 120 innings.
It was the postseason when Bower when to another level. By this point, Bower had modified her style and was not just a flame thrower, but a tremendous pitcher. She unleashed that whole arsenal by throwing four consecutive playoff shutouts, including a no-hitter in the opening round of states.
“I have not coached another girl that has the competitiveness and fire that she takes onto the field and the energy that she displays,” 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 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 reached an even higher level as a junior, earning the Class AAAA Player of the Year Award. She became as dominant at the plate as she was in the circle and Bower hit .547 with seven home runs, 29 RBIs and 20 runs. She also compiled a .618 on-base percentage and was lethal with runners on base, totaling a 1.000 slugging percentage.
If opponents could work around Bower they would and the Millionaires played several one-run games. That was just fine with them because Bower could make a 1-0 advantage look like a 21-run cushion. She went 17-4 with a 0.84 ERA and surrendered just 56 hits in 141 innings while striking out 220. Bower threw nine shutouts, held opponents to a .115 batting average and allowed just two hits in consecutive district playoff games as Williamsport repeated as district champions. Bower was flawless in a 1-0 district championship win and struck out 25 in two postseason victories, giving her six shutouts in eight playoff starts.
“That’s one thing about Alexis,” Quint Bower said. “When the pressure is on, she steps up and comes through.”
That was evident throughout 2013 as Bower put together one of the most dazzling seasons any area player has ever experienced. She was the lone senior on a young team which started four sophomores and four freshmen, but Bower put the Millionaires on her back at times, helping it win a third straight Central Penn League championship and 18 games, while coming within a timely hit of another district title.
Bower literally was unhittable at times, going 18-3 with a 0.45 ERA and 225 strikeouts. She allowed just 45 hits in 138 2/3 innings, never surrendered more than six hits in a game and put together a 51-inning scoreless streak at one point. Bower also had a 30-inning scoreless streak and seemed in a different dimension than everyone else, allowing just two runs in her final 83 innings pitched.
“She’s just way better than everybody else,” Hazleton coach Vince Trivelpiece said after Bower threw a four-hitter and went 2 for 3 with a double in a 1-0 district final loss.
As she did in the circle, Bower improved in every category at the plate as well and easily captured the District 4 home run title. She hit .613 with a decade area-best nine home runs, as well as 24 RBIs and 26 runs. Bower hit home runs in five straight games late in the year and produced both a .675 on-base percentage and 1.242 slugging percentage.
One incredible two-day stretch perfectly captured how dynamic a player Bower was. During a 21-hour window, Bower all but single handedly won Williamsport its eight-team tournament. That Friday night she threw a one-hitter, struck out 13 and went 2 for 2 as the Millionaires defeated HAC-II champion Loyalsock, 2-0. That, though, was just the appetizer.
The next day, Bower threw consecutive no-hitters against Union-Endicott and St. Hubert’s, striking out 24, walking just one and going to just four three-ball counts. She also homered in both games, went 4 for 6 and finished a double shy of hitting for the cycle in the championship.
“This past week, week and a half, I feel really strong and with the defense behind me it helps a lot,” Bower said. “Throughout my high school experience this is definitely the strongest I’ve felt. I’ve had a lot of experience and I know situations going in and it’s helped me.”
I’ve never seen a high school player since I’ve been coaching that is as locked in pitching, hitting and fielding as she is right now,” Quint Bower said. “She’s smoking the ball. She’s locked in right now.”
Really, though, Bower always seemed locked in. The ACL injury was a setback, but Bower turned the comeback into something special. Now a Williamsport assistant softball coach, Bower serves as a perfect example of what can be achieved when talent and relentless work collide.
“I feel like I went out with a bang,” Bower said. “It was a good way to go out.”