With Alexandria’s hopes for a state championship berth on the line, he was handed the ball — for only the fifth time all year.
Despite having seemingly every reason in the world to be full of fear and doubt, Bowen responded by guiding Alexandria to a 10-4 victory at home against No. 3 Deshler in Game 3 of the Class 4A state baseball semifinals.
“I just wanted to come in and pitch hard because the seniors have held this team down all season,” Bowen said. “I knew I had to keep my composure, stay in control, and not let my emotions get the best of me.”
With the win, Alexandria will now take on No. 2 UMS-Wright on Thursday at 7 p.m. It’s their first trip to the finals since 1999.
Bowen earned the complete game win for Alexandria (22-17), giving up six hits while striking out three and walking two against 35 batters.
Alexandria Coach Andy Shaw had decided on his Game 3 starter shortly after the Valley Cubs split a doubleheader Friday night. However, Shaw didn’t tell the sophomore until he showed up to Kevin “Byrd” Welch Field that morning, “so he could get a good night’s sleep in,” Shaw said.
“Right when I walked on the field, he (Shaw) said ‘Bowen, you’re getting the start,” Bowen said. “I was like, ‘Really?’ I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve been waiting for my chance all year.”
He saw action in regular season contests against Sacred Heart, Class 5A finalist Hartselle and Valley and went 5 2/3 innings in a two-hit, two-walk performance in the Valley Cubs’ opening-round ousting of defending state champions Haleyville.
However, he stayed sharp throughout the season, pitching about every other game for the Valley Cubs’ B-Team, including a no-hitter against Cherokee County, he said.
Bowen retired six of the first seven batters he faced and had a shutout until the bottom of the third, when the Tigers scored on an RBI single from Dillon Boston that made the score 5-1 in favor of Alexandria.
“I don’t have a lot of speed, so, I just tried to keep them off-balance because we knew they could hit it,” Bowen said.
The Valley Cubs scored five unanswered runs on RBIs from Taylor Shanks and Drake Cobb in the first and Hunter Ginn, Trey Shaw and J.M. Lee in the third.
Deshler (34-9) pulled Boston, who started and took the loss, and inserted shortstop Justin Cantrell at pitcher in the top of fourth.
Cobb, the next batter to the plate tagged him for a two-run single that scored Kelley and Shanks and gave the Alexandria a 7-1 lead.
“No, no, no” Andy Shaw said when he asked if he expected Bowen to go all seven innings on Saturday.
“We just wanted him to go as long as he could. But he was throwing his breaking ball for strikes. I don’t mess with that.”
Shaw wound up never needing to pay a visit to the mound. He said he had plans to throw Ty Whaley and Kelley if needed.
“Coach (Tony) Snider stays on (the pitchers) so hard,” Shaw said, “So, they get used to it.
“They’re used to the pressure. The same thing with Coach (Zac) Welch with out hitters and coach (Jason Johnson).”
Bowen appeared to be in trouble in the bottom of the sixth, when Boston added a run for the Tigers on a sacrifice fly to make the score 7-2.
The next batter reached on an error, and Bowen walked Matt Blazer to load the bases for Cantrell.
Cantrell sent a streaming shot to centerfield that had grand-slam written all over it, but Josh Ray made went airborne and stretched out horizontally to make a diving catch near the warning track to end the inning.
Ray added some insurance with a two-run double that brought in Trey Shaw and pinch runner Zac Carrizales. An RBI double from Kelley put the valley Cubs up 10-2 going into the bottom of the seventh.
Cobb was 1-for-4 with three RBIs to lead Alexandria and Ray was 1-for-4 with two RBIs.
Trey Shaw also contributed at the plate, going 3-for-4 with an RBI, and Shanks was 3-for-5 with an RBI. Hunter Ginn was 2-for-3 and knocked in a run on a sacrifice fly. Kelley was 2-for-5 with an RBI.
Deshler catcher’s Evan Fergerson’s two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh — the lone dinger of the series — was all but inconsequential.
“The bottom line is we hit the ball unbelievably all year,” Deshler coach Josh LouAllen said. “Early on we popped the ball up, but we got into ourselves and hit the ball hard and we got here and it seemed like we were driving everything into the ground. It was very uncharacteristic for us.”
Bowen’s play was the second gutsy performance of the series from a Valley Cubs underclassman on the mound, following Logan Doss’ nine-strikeout outing to win Game 2.
“It’s unbelievable to be here, especially for these kids,” Andy Shaw said. “For them to be able to represent Alexandria in Montgomery, that’s the biggest thing just being a part of Alexandria.”