Big expectations followed Huntley's Briana Bower after a strong freshman season. The hard-throwing sophomore couldn't have done much more this spring as she became the first local pitcher with 300 or more strikeouts in a season since Prairie Ridge's Kirsten Stevens in 2012.
More significantly, Bower's dominance in the circle helped lead the Red Raiders to some pretty big school history. Bower capped a record-breaking season for Huntley, tossing a 1-0, eight-inning shutout against St. Charles East in the Class 4A state championship game.
The state title was the first for Huntley in any team sport. The Raiders (35-7) also became the first softball team from the Fox Valley Conference to win a state championship. In the playoffs, Bower went 7-0 with a 0.91 ERA and 75 strikeouts and four walks.
Bower ended her sophomore season 27-5 with a 1.12 ERA and 0.73 WHIP and 353 strikeouts and 30 walks in 212 1/3 innings. She pitched two perfect games and two other no-hitters and set the team's single-game strikeout record with 18 in the fourth game of the season.
For her accomplishments and a record-breaking season, Bower was chosen as the Northwest Herald Softball Player of the Year by the sports staff with input from area coaches. She becomes the second consecutive Raiders player to win the award, joining Tiffany Giese a year ago.
Bower talked to sports writer Alex Kantecki about her most prized possession, favorite movies and what she remembers most about the state championship game.
What was your favorite moment from this season?
Bower: Coming home from state and seeing everybody in the parking lot cheering us on. We didn't get back until almost midnight.
What are three of your favorite movies?
Bower: "Finding Nemo, "The Green Mile," "Forrest Gump."
What’s your dream job?
Bower: I want to be an elementary school teacher. I’m pretty good with kids, and it would give me the summer off to coach.
Who had the biggest influence on you as an athlete?
Bower: My teammates from Indiana Magic Gold. They’re all hard workers, and they’re all studs. They push me to be my best. I just try to keep up with them.
What is your favorite and least favorite class in school?
Bower: My favorite class is English. My least favorite is math. Sorry, Mrs. Jenkins, but I’m not very good at math.
Can you recall what you were thinking before your final pitch in the state championship game?
Bower: I told myself to take a deep breath and give it all I've got.
Is there any significance to wearing No. 17?
Bower: No, not really. My favorite number is 22 because my initials are "BB" and that’s the second letter in the alphabet. They didn’t’ have No. 22, and I was too scared to ask for one.
Do you have any nicknames?
Bower: In our first practice outside last year [2018 Huntley graduate] Tiffany Giese gave me the nickname of "Tree." Coach Matt [Langton] gave me one this year; he started calling me "Breezy."
Who is your funniest teammate?
Bower: [Freshman] Jori Heard. She’s very funny. She says random things at just the right time.
Which professional sports team has the best uniform?
Bower: The Houston Astros Majestic orange jerseys because of the bright colors. It brings a lot of fun to the jersey.
Who is your favorite professional athlete?
Bower: Tim Anderson from the White Sox. That guy has major energy and likes to get his team going.
What did you think of coach Mark Petryniec’s bleached hair for the state tournament?
Bower: Sofia Tenuta did that. At first, he had little lines in his hair. I just sat there, so I had no comment. … It looked great. He pulled it off. We tried to do it with Matt [Langton], but he said, ‘No, that’s not happening.’
Was there a regular-season game when you realized how good your team could be?
Bower: The Cary-Grove game at home. It was senior night, and everybody contributed. Our senior, Courtney Mills, had the game-winning hit. That’s when I knew that we would all come together as a team.
Do you have any game-day rituals or superstitions?
Bower: I have to eat two McChickens and chocolate chip cookies before a big game. In the postseason, [senior] Taylor Zielinski had to find me a penny, heads up, and I put it in my left pocket. She found one before every game.
What is something that scares you?
Bower: Getting hit in the face. But I wear a face mask, so I don’t think that will be a problem.
What sport that you don’t play would you be good at?
Bower: Bowling. I could probably get the spins down.
What is your favorite wild animal?
Bower: A koala because they like to eat and sleep. That sounds like me.
What is the best drill you have done for building your pitch velocity?
Bower: Lunges. It definitely works the legs.
What’s the coolest place you’ve ever visited?
Bower: The Rocky Mountains. I hiked and climbed there, and it was pretty fun to see the views.
What’s your proudest sports moment?
Bower: Getting past Barrington [in the sectional semifinals]. We haven’t done that before, and it meant a lot to a lot of people.
What is your most prized possession?
Bower: My 300-strikeout ball.
Who is the best athlete in your family?
Bower: My two younger brothers are pretty good; my parents are pretty good, but I’ve got to go with my little sister. She’s going to be the best because she’s going to learn from all of us. She’s definitely going to beat us out.