ROCKINGHAM – Life doesn’t get much sweeter than signing a letter of intent that guarantees a full-ride scholarship to play softball at a college nestled along the Gulf Coast of Florida.
And that’s the case for Richmond Senior High School standout softball catcher Owen Bowers. In an official signing ceremony Thursday in the school’s media center, Bowers committed to swap the Lady Raiders’ green and gold for the purple and aqua of the Lady Buccaneers and play for Florida SouthWestern State College.
Joining Bowers were her parents, Robbie and Shannon Bowers, Richmond head softball coach Wendy Wallace, assistant coach Shellie Wimpey, and her travel ball coach Danny Lampley. Bowers verbally committed to play at FSW earlier this year, but noted that she can finally take a deep breath now that it’s official.
“This is such a relief,” Bowers said with a grin. “A huge weight is off my shoulders now, and I can focus on preparing for the upcoming (high school) season and my first college season.
“FSW is the best option for me to play at to help me get to a Division I program, and that’s my dream,” Bowers added. “It’s a beautiful campus and a beautiful place to live. I want to get out of Richmond County and expand my horizons.”
Bowers plans to attend FSW for two years and hopes to play well enough during that time span to receive a scholarship offer from a Division I program.
Described as “not an average” junior college located in Fort Myers, Fla., the Lady Bucs’ softball program is captained by Robert Iamurri, who took over the program in July 2014. Iamurri, who is the all-time leader for high school softball wins in Florida (817) and fast pitch state championships (12), is known for his ability to develop players and get them to Division I programs.
During the 2017 season, the Lady Buccaneers went 66-7 and finished as the third-ranked team in the nation. FSW lost to Salt Lake Community College in the semifinals round of the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Softball Championship.
According to Shannon Bowers, Iamurri’s specialty is discovering and developing each of his players’ talents and “fitting” them with the perfect program to allow them to reach the pinnacles of their careers.
“The whole family is so proud of her,” Robbie Bowers said. “Owen has always been such a great athlete. Academically, too, she’s always wanted to be the best.”
Robbie Bowers explained that college softball scholarships aren’t like those in football and basketball where universities come looking for players.
“She’s competitive in everything she does,” he added. “Owen really had to recruit herself to different colleges, and we weren’t expecting Florida SouthWestern, but it’s a great opportunity for her.”
Bowers developed her love and talent for softball at an early age, and began playing with the Richmond Thunder travel ball team at the age of 10. She still plays travel ball, but for SEC Elite, a team made up of several local players from Richmond, Hoke and Scotland counties.
Lampley, who has coached Bowers through her travel ball career, pitched professionally with the Boston Red Sox organization from 1998-2000, and should be credited for bringing such a high-caliber and competitive level of softball to Richmond County to allow young players to get the opportunity to develop.
“From day one, Owen has always been one of the fastest players on the team,” Lampley said. “We knew she had a lot of athletic qualities, even at a young age. And that’s why we started the Thunder program; to give her and other (local) girls the opportunity to play at a higher level.”
And it was through Lampley and his wife, Angela, that Bowers developed her skillset and connection with Iamurri. Angela Lampley attended high school in Naples, Fla., and played for Iamurri. This past spring, Iamurri was contacted by Angela Lampley, and at the end of June, Bowers went FSW for a workout.
To be recruited by Iamurri, according to Robbie Bowers, players need to impress in two of three areas: foot speed (particularly speed on the base paths), arm speed (must throw at least 60 m.p.h) and batting power. When Bowers met with the FSW coaching staff over the summer, she exceeded all three standards.
As a junior last spring, Bowers served as a powerhitting catcher that helped the Lady Raiders win the then Southeast Conference (SEC) title, and then onto the semifinal round of the 4A North Carolina state playoffs. She finished the 31-game season with a team second-best in batting average (.452) and homeruns (nine), and tied with teammate Greyson Way for the top spot in RBIs with 37.
Other notable stats from her junior season include 42 hits in 93 plate appearances, seven stolen bases (second on the team only to Savannah Lampley), and a .980 fielding percentage that included 190 putouts.
“Owen has been a game changer from the moment she stepped on the field as a ninth grader,” Wallace commented. “She works hard on the field and in the weight room. She is an integral part of our program’s success and will be a major contributor during her senior season.”
Fresh off an SAC title with the Lady Raiders volleyball team, Bowers is excited to get her college career started, but knows that her whole senior softball season still lies ahead.
“My biggest expectation for the softball team this year is to win the conference title again,” Bowers noted. “Hopefully we can make it past where we got this year (4A state semifinals), and make a run for the state championship.
“I think we have a lot of girls who want that, and who are willing to work hard to get it,” Bowers continued. “I’m not going to put a lot of pressure on myself; I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing and get better.
“I’ve got to play twice as hard this year to get to where I want to be,” she concluded.
Bowers hopes to further develop this spring so she can bring her speed and power from the right side of the plate to the Lady Bucs’ program as a freshman. Her full scholarship covers her out-of-state tuition, room and board, meals, books, among other things.
The best part of the whole thing? Bowers will be attending college and playing softball in sunny southwest Florida, while studying biology on her way to becoming a pediatric oncologist. Yeah, life really can’t get much sweeter for a high school senior.