Manteno catcher Lexi Bowdish can certainly hit. Her .641 batting average was an area-high this season and the senior slugger finished near the top of every imaginable statistic category.
But Bowdish doesn’t consider herself a hitter as much as she considers herself a premier defender behind the plate, where she recorded a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage this season, the position she has spent learning the art of from coach Josh Carlile, a former catcher himself.
“I just like controlling the game with the infield,” Bowdish said. “Not only do I love controlling the game, whether it’s framing or blocking, but I also love throwing runners out and being able to shut teams down like that with the pitcher.
“Defense has always really been a fun aspect of the game for me.”
And it’s the blend of offense and defense, as well as her silent leadership skills, that gave Bowdish the trifecta needed to be called the 2019 Daily Journal Co-Player of the Year.
Carlile can still remember the first time Bowdish came over for her first of many private lessons when she was in fourth grade. She didn’t have the skills she learned to develop, but Carlile knew she was going to work to reach whatever goals she had in mind.
“I remember her throwing the first ball down to second base and it got about halfway there,” Carlile said. “I was like, ‘Well, we’ve gotta work on arm strength.’
“What I do remember about all those lessons and all throughout her high school career, is just Lexi’s determination to be the best, to outwork people.”
Over the course of lessons with Carlile, who is affectionately known as, “Sarge,” and years of travel ball, rec-league ball and school ball, Bowdish became a true five-tool star from behind the plate. And it didn’t take long into her high school career to be noticed for her stardom, as Bowdish was garnered with Illinois Coaches Association Class 3A All-State honors, as well as Interstate Eight All-Conference and Daily Journal All-Area honors as a sophomore.
After reaching that sky-high level as a sophomore, Bowdish kept pace with herself over her final two years and earned herself a softball scholarship to Butler University.
“When you get girls that go on to play Division I softball and get recognized as all-state, especially as an underclassman, that sophomore recognition, that means a lot,” Carlile said. “You’re being compared to every softball player in the state of Illinois, and to be on that list, it shows the level of excellence she had consistently.”
After posting batting averages above the .500 mark as both a sophomore and junior, Bowdish had yet to explore the power she had at her disposal until this season. She said the one change she made to her game this year was slightly tweaking her swing to get more lift, which helped her belt nine homeruns, sixth in the area.
“I’ve always thought in my other years, I wanted to have a high average and had to swing at a down angle, because I thought I would always just pop it up,” Bowdish said. “This year, I tried adjusting my swing for those gaps and trying to get some lift on (the ball)..
“I always had that level swing, I just tried adjusting it more.”
With the added pop to her bat, Bowdish became even more dangerous at the plate. And whenever she stepped up to the plate, there were usually runners on base, as Kaycie Wenzel and Lanie Malone, the two batters before Bowdish in the lineup, each posted on-base percentages of .500 or above.
And with runners on, especially in scoring position, Bowdish was even more lethal, posting a .684 average with runners in scoring position.
Bowdish said that with Wenzel and Malone ahead of her in the order, and Kori Fricke and Maddie Lacer behind her, there was never much pressure for her to deliver.
“It was so much fun, especially with Kaycie and Lanie in front of me, it was pretty much a guarantee that they were gonna get on,” Bowdish said. “Even if I didn’t hit them in, I knew Kori and Lacer would hit us in.”
That clutch gene allowed Bowdish to reach an even 50 RBIs on the season, tied for third in the area. Whether those RBIs came from a homerun or a slapped single, Carlile knew he could count on Bowdish to execute.
“My favorite part about her is stepping up to the plate and being able to be a different hitter based on the situation,” Carlile said. “If it’s late in the game and we need somebody to hit the ball deep, she’d hit the ball deep. Early in the game, if we needed her to hit behind a runner, she’d hit behind a runner.”
Bowdish will take the lessons she learned from Sarge and the talents she developed on to Butler next season, where she will look to continue to crush pitching, control the game and throw out would-be base stealers, her favorite activities on the softball diamond.
While many first-time college students may be anxious for what their future holds, especially going to school out of state and in the athletic eye of thousands of fans, Bowdish is ready to explore life at Butler, a place that reminds her of the place she became a softball superstar.
“I think the thing that sold me (on Butler) is that it’s a small school, so you get close to your teachers,” Bowdish said. “The coaches sold me and I just like that it’s small, like a family.
“Kind of like Manteno.”