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Softball: Boulder relying on youth to turn around its fortunes

Boulder High School freshman pitcher Riley ...
Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer
Boulder High School freshman pitcher Riley Bowman poses for a portrait on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.
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Sixteen games into the 2021 season, Boulder softball has already surpassed its win count for the last two seasons combined.

The Panthers won just five games in 2019 and only six the year after that. This year, since the middle of August, they’ve put up 15 W’s with just one loss to their names. Their secret weapon lies in their youth.

“We struggled the last few years,” fifth-year head coach Courtney Geib said. “We made little improvements, year by year, but having such a huge group of freshmen and so many that were able to contribute right away put us at a little bit of a different level and we’ve also really bought into the mental aspect of the game. We’re working on that a little bit, which I think has helped us out in terms of maintaining some consistency.”

The Panthers have been led, in part, by their freshman ace Riley Bowman, who boasts a 0.22 ERA with a 14-1 record. Through 63 innings, the phenom has only given up 15 hits, 16 runs (two earned) and walked just 17 batters. Her 149 strikeouts place her squarely in second place among all 4A Colorado pitchers as Severance’s Natalia Puchino leads with 169.

Bowman credits much of her success to the defense behind her, but there’s no question that there’s a bit more magic in the circle in Boulder this year.

Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 15: Boulder High School freshman pitcher Riley Bowman throws to freshman catcher Ellie Jones, not pictured, during a team practice on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)

“I really like my screw, my curve and my riseball but if I had to choose one, I’d probably say my screwball (is my favorite),” Bowman said. “Right-handed batters, if they ever come in crowding the plate, I just throw it right in under their hands and they aren’t crowding the plate anymore. They back off a little more.”

Defense isn’t the only ingredient in Boulder’s recipe for success. Through 16 games, the Panthers have put up monster numbers at the plate with 177 runs on 165 hits, 150 RBIs, 65 walks and just 64 strikeouts.

It certainly helps that many of the freshmen grew up playing club ball together, so the chemistry was already there before they stepped foot into the high school diamond.

“Some of us just came from really good comp teams early on and some of us started playing when we were really young, like elementary school,” freshman Ria Ushakova said. “I think it’s just been really helpful and we also have really talented seniors. I feel like the more we play on this team, the more we’ll just keep on growing and getting better.”

Winning in softball is always the goal, sure, but building from the ground up in high school sports can be just as invaluable. When a squad of 18 boasts 11 freshmen, that bodes well for the future of a program that has struggled in years past.

Now, it seems, the Panthers can only go up from here.

“You can’t tell who’s a freshman, who’s a senior, who’s any class,” Geib said. “On the field, we have senior middle infielders who have really taken charge in terms of directing the rest of the team who are, by and large, pretty young.

“It’s really exciting. I can’t wait to see what happens next year and beyond. I think it’ll be a lot of fun and hopefully, it’ll just be the start of building the team.”

Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 15: Boulder High School freshman Nevaeh Patt attempts to slide into home while being tagged by freshman catcher Ellie Jones during a team practice on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.(Timothy Hurst/Staff Photographer)