Hayfield softball coach Ron Giovannucci said pitcher Amber Fowler had been off her game prior to the Hawks’ May 6 home matchup with Yorktown. The team was still winning, but Fowler had been less than dominant.
Turns out all she needed was a challenge.
Facing Yorktown, Hayfield’s stiffest competition since joining the National District in 2010, Fowler tossed a three-hit shutout as the Hawks won 2-0 on senior night. Hayfield won both regular season meetings with Yorktown and improved to 4-1 against the Patriots in the last two seasons, including a 3-2 victory in last year’s district championship game.
Fowler "had been struggling the last couple of games," Giovannucci said. "She was getting hit a little bit, but she came out like her old self tonight. I think competition probably motivated her a little bit."
Competitive district games have been few and far between for Hayfield. Friday’s victory improved Hayfield’s record against National District teams to 29-1 in two seasons, during which the Hawks have outscored their district opponents 455-35. This season, Hayfield improved to 13-0 in the district, outscoring the opposition 203-21.
On Friday against Yorktown, Fowler struck out 10 and did not walk a batter. The right-hander did not allow a Patriot to reach third base and only one advanced to second.
"I love being under pressure out on the pitcher’s mound," she said. "It’s just something that gives me a thrill."
Fowler’s pitching repertoire consists of seven pitches — curveball, curve-rise, screwball, screw-rise, change up, drop ball and rise — but against Yorktown, she said she usually stays with the screwball and curve while mixing in an occasional change. On Friday, No. 52 said her screwball was working well.
"That’s the best pitching I’ve seen [from] her in a while," senior catcher Samantha Perry-Shifflett said. "I’m just really proud of her. I’ve never seen her pitch that well. It didn’t surprise me because I knew she had it in her."
The Hawks played error-free defense behind Fowler, turning the majority of Yorktown’s balls in play into outs.
Yorktown assistant coach Deb Litman said Fowler pitched better than she did during the teams’ previous meeting on April 15, but Litman felt some of Fowler’s success was due to fortunate fielding.
"We hit Amber well the first time we played them and I think we hit her well tonight," Litman said. "There just seemed to be an outfielder everywhere we hit it."
According to Giovannucci, there was a reason for the Hawks’ timely defense.
"Tonight, I thought [the Patriots] were pretty predictable from what they did last game," he said. "I thought we placed our fielders correctly and called the pitches correctly for them. If you look at both games, I think they pretty much hit the ball basically the same place they hit before."
Hayfield sophomore Taryn McElehenny produced the game’s only runs in the first inning with a two-out, two-run single. McElehenny’s clutch hit came after the Hawks benefited from an overturned call at second base.
With one out and a runner on first, Fowler hit a pop up that dropped in shallow center field. Yorktown center fielder Julia Cushing picked up the ball and threw to second base, where shortstop Kelly John appeared to have trouble locating the bag. Perry-Shifflett slid into second base, dislodging the bag, and was ruled out. But after the umpires discussed the call, the base umpire’s ruling was overturned, giving the Hawks runners on first and second with one out.
After a pop out and an infield single loaded the bases with two outs, McElehenny delivered.
"She was straddling the base as if she was going to tag me," Perry-Shifflett said of John. "She never touched the base and never touched me. I told my coach to appeal it because I knew I was safe."
The two runs were more than enough for Fowler, who often pitches long enough to earn a win before giving way to sophomore Taylor Neuhart in relief. If Fowler continues to pitch the way she did on Friday, Giovannucci will have a hard time taking her out.
"Normally I bring Taylor in to close," the Hayfield coach said, "but with a close game like this and [Fowler] seemed to be on fire, so I just kept her in there."
The National District Tournament begins May 17. Hayfield is the No. 1 seed.