By Bob Judson
OGDEN, UT — Rocky Mountain Thunder (Highlands Ranch, CO) left fielder Joceyln Steiner jump-started the offense with a two-run jack in the second inning Friday and the Thunder amassed an eight-run cushion through the top of the fourth.
Thunder pitcher Riley Bowman was sailing along with a shutout through three dominant innings when coach David Swank pulled her for a reliever in the bottom half of the fourth.
Seven SOZO Clark (Vail, AZ) batters, two outs, and four runs later, Bowman was back in the circle, trying to close the game out.
A four-run lead will not run-rule a team, but clock limits will end the game, and Rocky Mountain advanced to the quarterfinals of the Triple Crown 16u Fastpitch World Series, with an 8-4 victory over SOZO Clark at the Weber County Softball Complex.
Having played six games in four days, with potentially three more on the horizon Saturday, Swank no doubt tried to mitigate the exhaustion factor for Bowman. She had struck out eight of the nine outs the Thunder recorded and was okay with the decision.
“I just want to be there to help my team however possible and my coach made that decision and I respect whatever he wants to do,” Bowman said. “I came out, but was ready to go back in whenever he needed me.”
That opportunity came sooner than they may have expected, as reliever Emmaline Humphreys struggled in the fourth inning, hurt by a bases-loaded three-run error on a hit to right field that cleared the bases.
Time to begin another inning had expired during the SOZO Clark at bat, when Bowman returned to the circle and struck out the final batter with a runner on first.
“Emmaline and I are ready to go tomorrow and pitch for our team,” Bowman said. “The plan was to use both of us this game, get a lead and then I could come out. That way we could be fresh for tomorrow and both be ready to go.”
In summary, Bowman struck out nine batters in 3 1/3 innings, with no walks, and allowed only a soft pop fly single that landed between the rubber and home plate, that somehow took a divot and didn’t roll foul.
“I just try to spin the ball, miss bats and get weak contact. I’m mostly an east-west pitcher. I throw my curve mostly and mix in my rise ball,” Bowman said. “My goal is to give my defense a chance to make plays so that we can go hit and hopefully get it done.”
It took an inning to get untracked, but the Rocky Mountain Thunder broke through with three runs in the top of the second. Steiner stroked a two-run homer to left center and the Thunder were rolling from there.
“The first inning we came out a little slow, but we figured out what the pitcher was doing and came back in the second inning with a lot more energy and were ready to compete,” Steiner said. “She was throwing a lot of high stuff, so we let each other know; honestly, that helped me because I knew what I was going to be seeing.”
“I was just trying to hit one hard…I wasn’t thinking about hitting a homerun. Move (the runner) over; do my job,” Steiner said.
As it turns out, three runs weren’t enough, but a five-run fourth inning ended up sealing the deal. Steiner was part of that rally also, following a Rowan Daufeldt opening walk with a single.
“After we had the lead, I was a little bit more relaxed at the plate. I was ready to pile a lot more on. We had the mojo going for us,” Steiner said. “The second at bat was a lot more fun. Not thinking about myself; just about the girls that are already on. Do whatever I can to help us score runs.”
Katie Perkins, Sophie Mangiameli, Eliza Auger and Jillian Kelly all had an RBI in the big fourth inning for the Thunder.
SOZO Clark then made things interesting in the home half of the fourth, getting six straight runners on, shrinking the gap to 8-4. Katie Lutton had the key hit, a line drive single to right with the bases loaded, that was misplayed by the fielder, as three runs scored.
Bowman then returned and finished with a flourish, her ninth strikeout and the game clincher. Shohei Ohtani she is not, as she prefers to not bat when she is pitching.
“It helps me focus more on my pitching and I can get a little more rest in the shade and have more energy and give everything I have when I’m on the mound,” Bowman said.
So far, so good for the Thunder. Bowman can watch quietly and let her teammates carry the big stick.