Huntley’s Briana Bower, whose pitches have been clocked as high as 69 mph this season, had a little something extra left as the Class 4A Barrington Supersectional continued into the eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th innings Monday.
After allowing the tying runs to score in the top of the seventh, Bower allowed only one hit the rest of the way, as she and Barrington’s Jackie Albrecht went pitch for pitch. Abby Simandl finally ended the three-hour, 15-minute marathon with a walk-off home run in the 11th for a 6-5 Red Raiders victory.
Huntley (34-6) faces Marist (36-1) at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria in a Class 4A state tournament semifinal. Lincoln-Way Central (29-3) and Minooka (16-13) play at the same time in the other semifinal, with the winners meeting in the championship game at 5 p.m. The third-place game is at 4 p.m.
The Raiders, led by Bower, are trying to win back-to-back state titles after winning their first in 2019. Last season was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It means a lot because, last year, our seniors didn’t get a chance, so this one is dedicated to them,” Bower said. “We just keep playing for them, each other and the community.”
After missing her junior year because of the pandemic, Bower (30-5) came back even stronger. The Mississippi State commit enters the state tournament with a 1.15 ERA and 434 strikeouts in 207 2/3 innings. Maybe even more impressively, Bower has walked only 26 batters.
At the plate, she leads the team with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs.
“There were times [Monday] when I felt Bri kind of kicked it into an extra gear,” Huntley assistant coach Matt Langton said. “She was dialed in, focused and did what she needed to do. I think that’s what part of what makes her so special. She knows when she really needs to attack the hitters and leave it all out there. She can find another gear.”
Bower’s career achievements include more than a handful of no-hitters and perfect games. She has set the team’s single-game strikeout record multiple times throughout her career, which currently stands at 28. Her 434 strikeouts surpassed her school-record 353 strikeouts set as a sophomore and currently ranks 12th on the state’s all-time single-season strikeout list, according to IHSA.org.
Bower has a calmness about her in the circle. No matter the situation, pitch to pitch, she stays in routine.
“She’s someone who really is able to keep her emotions in check,” Langton said. “You can’t tell if she just struck someone out or if she gave up a home run. That’s a sign of her maturity, and that’s a really good thing to have as she moves forward.”
“I know that my fielders look at me and look up to me on the field as being a leader,” Bower said. “If I look calm and cool, then they’ll look calm and cool. I don’t want to be reacting to anything negatively, or anything like that. As long as I’m cool, they’re cool.”
Huntley sophomore Katie Mitchell, playing in her first varsity season, said Bower is someone everyone looks up to.
“Bri is just unbelievable. We all love her so much,” Mitchell said. “She says, ‘Good job’ to me all the time, even if I’m just standing out there in the outfield. I’m proud of her and everything that she’s done.”
Huntley coach Mark Petryniec has seen Bower embrace her role as a team leader.
“You sit back and enjoy the ride,” Petryniec said. “I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of being able to coach a talent like Bri. Nothing more can be said of what she’s done. She knows what it’s like to get us through this run, and she’s going to lead us there.”
Huntley lost both games of a doubleheader against Marist in April, including a 2-0 loss in a game started by Bower and Marist’s Abby Dunning, a Boston College commit. Dunning amassed 17 strikeouts that game and allowed only one hit. Bower had nine strikeouts and allowed a two-run homer in the sixth.
Bower has a lot of respect for the RedHawks pitcher.
“She’s a great pitcher,” Bower said. “I think it’s her spin. It looks like it’s coming down the middle, and then the last second it tails off. The spin is insane, and obviously the speed is too. We just need to be more selective.”
Bower, along with seniors Marley Reicher, Simandl and Lindsay Morgan and juniors Reese Hunkins and Jori Heard, all were on the 2019 state championship team.
Bower’s advice for the first-timers?
“Honestly, my advice would be just to have fun and just play for each other,” Bower said. “These are our last two games together. No matter the outcome, I’m proud of all of them. This has been a great season, and I’m going to miss them all, Coach P and all of the coaches.”