Jowers an unpredictable threat at plate
Holds a rare .608 batting average for Armstrong Atlantic
Everybody in the ballpark pretty much knows what’s coming. Or at least they think they do.
When April Jowers comes to the plate, opposing third basemen usually position themselves where they can reach out and touch the batter. Sometimes the first basemen join in with the close quarters around home plate.
And then Jowers slaps a single by them.
Next time to the plate? Infielders stay back a bit.
So Jowers lays down a bunt.
It’s a dilemma Division II defenses have to work out when facing Armstrong Atlantic of the Peach Belt Conference in Savannah, Ga. Especially when facing a particular senior second baseman.
“I’ve never had a player like her and will never have another like her,” head coach Ted Evans said.
Through 43 games this season, Jowers’ numbers are mind-boggling. In 143 at-bats she has 87 hits. Do the math and that translates to a .608 batting average.
Not since 1994 has a Division II player finished above .600. Jowers has eight games remaining in the regular season and most likely a few extra in the postseason as the Pirates are 35-8 and ranked seventh in the latest NFCA Top 25 Poll.
“Actually I don’t know what my average is, I don’t want to know,” Jowers said. “I know everybody else does but I’m kind of superstitious about things like that. I’m having a good season but it’s more important for me to help my team win games.”
As a 7-year-old in Columbus, Ga., Jowers was playing baseball with the boys. At 10 she moved to the softball diamond where she hit right-handed.
“My dad always said you are two steps closer to first if you hit from the left side,” Jowers said. “He introduced it to me but coach [Tiff] Tootle is really someone who helped me a lot.”
Tootle, a three-time All-American at South Carolina who had a .432 career batting average, coached at Columbus State from 2000-08. Jowers started her career at Columbus State but played there just one season, 2009, when she .390 and stole 26 bases.
A year later it was Armstrong Atlantic where it’s been nothing but nightmares for PBC defenses.
As a sophomore in 2010, Jowers started all 53 games and hit .421 with 26 steals. Last season the final tally was .497, 28 stolen bases, with first-team All-America and PBC Player of the Year honors.
“What she’s done is amazing,” said Evans, in his eighth season at Armstrong Atlantic. “She really is very bashful off the field but when she puts on that uniform it is the opposite. This year we’ve moved her into the No. 2 spot in the order so teams can’t pitch around her.
“What makes it so tough is that it is virtually impossible for a catcher to throw her out when she bunts. And not a lot of third basemen want to take it on the nose. There was a team that pulled the entire infield in and had the outfielders almost on the dirt. [Jowers] lined it through them and had an inside-the-park home run.”
Jowers and the Pirates will certainly be tested the rest of the way.
This weekend Armstrong Atlantic travels to Flagler, which has produced a 34-12 record. Senior right-hander Donna Munafro enters the weekend with a 26.1 scoreless innings streak. She has seven shutouts this season and the top earned run average in the PBC at 0.81.
USC Aiken and India Kornegay’s 150 strikeouts are on tap April 13. The season finishes at Augusta State and Francis Marion.
“That makes it a little tougher, being on the road,” Evans said. “You don’t always get the calls.”
“Coach [Evans] does a really good job of letting us know what’s coming,” Jowers said. “We watch some video of the pitchers we are going to see. Batting number two, it gives me a chance to watch an at-bat before I get up there. What I do is based on timing but mainly it’s just all the practice. I work on bunting every day; I have for a long time.”
Although Jowers is drawing attention at the plate, it’s her defense that impresses Evans more.
“She’s made some plays this year that I’ve never seen,” said Evans of his second basemen who has three errors in 171 fielding chances. “And she makes it look so easy. The way she moves she gives the entire infield so much confidence.”
But it is at the plate where Jowers is trying to make history.
Sherry Howell of Eckard hit .629 in 1993. A year later North Carolina Central’s Sophie Rolle finished at .615. Neither Howell nor Rolle had more than 105 at-bats. Jowers is currently at 143.
“I actually talked about hitting .600 this year. My mom kind of laughed about it at the time,” Jowers said. “I’m not really thinking about the individual stuff right now because I’m more focused on what the team is doing.”
The Division I record of .589 was set by Coastal Carolina’s Sara Graziano in 1994. The Division III standard is .697 held by Lehman’s Hillary Peart in 1997. Eleven players have finished above .600 in DIII.
Jowers hopes to become only the third in DII history.