PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry softball standout Laken Bowman will play for the Lady Knights next season.
The senior slugger wants to enter SCC’s nursing program and will join the softball team as well, she announced just hours before Friday’s graduation.
Laken said she has been playing softball since she was seven years old and isn’t ready for the journey to be over. She said she has been thinking about Surry Community since midseason and recently informed coach Blaine Bullington of her decision.
Bullington said he’s watched Laken play since she was in Little League while at Westfield Elementary.
Laken was an eighth-grader looking up to the high school girls when Bullington’s daughter, Julianna, and the Lady Cardinals won their fourth-straight state 1A title, so she has known the Bullington family for a long time, too.
“Laken wants to be as good as she can be out there,” said East head coach Randy Marion. “That’s never changed with her from Little League to middle school to high school.”
For years, Marion said he could be driving by the softball field and look over to see Laken practicing with her mom and dad, Tina and Nathan.
They have been really devoted to her, putting in a lot of time over the years.
“Laken is an extremely hard worker; she’s never satisfied,” said Marion. She could go 3-4 at the plate, and it’s that one out that she focuses on, thinking of what she could have done differently to help the team.
That drive led Laken to a career .329 batting average, back-to-back all-conference honors and all-tournament team honors.
As a junior, Laken was named to the all-district and all-state teams. In the recently announced 2015 teams, she has again received all-district honors along with Emily Cummings, Olivia Sheets and Bethany Clayton.
East Surry, which went 19-7 this season, made up four of the 12 spots on the 13-county District 7 team. The all-state teams have not been announced yet.
Laken batted .366 as a junior and .342 as a senior. While her batting average dipped slightly, she had just one fewer hit for the entire season than in 2014.
Meanwhile her power numbers soared. She was first on the team with five home runs and second in doubles and RBIs to Cummings. She was third in total hits.
Laken attributes some of her hitting success to a very quick bat.
Aggressive at the plate, she admitted she sometimes has trouble staying back and waiting on the pitch.
In one home game this season, she guessed that she fouled off about 13-14 pitches by pulling them foul down the left-field line because that particular pitcher was slow.
Laken has a good bat and also a good eye for the strike zone, said Bullington. That should translate well to the college level, too. He doesn’t anticipate changing up her swing and thinks she can replace some of the power he is losing from this year’s team.
Lake was a great pitcher as a child and got some work in her sophomore year, noted Marion. She and Emily formed a nice 1-2 punch last year until Laken started to have elbow pain in midseason.
At that point, Laken had a 6-1 record and an ERA of just 1.64, he said, but he thought it better to be cautious and take her out of the pitcher’s circle the rest of the way.
For her career she went 9-2 with an ERA of 2.07. Perhaps most surprising in her pitching stats is that in 64 innings thrown, Laken only had two wild pitches. Anyone who attends high school games knows that pitches hitting the backstop are a regular occurrence.
When she wasn’t pitching, Laken had been playing third, so Marion decided to leave her there the rest of her junior season.
Then Amber Lawson graduated a year ago. Amber had caught every pitch for three seasons, so no other catcher had been groomed along the way, he said.
Marion suggested the spot, and the senior jumped at the chance to help her team.
Bullington said he’d love to have her pitching, but will give Laken a try at catcher next year.
While catching was completely new to Laken, the senior took to it rather well. She made an error in the first game of the season, then made only one more the rest of the season.
She made 220 put-outs, with a lot of those coming on strikeouts, but several also came on force plays and tags at the plate. She also recorded eight assists, where she threw a runner out advancing to a base.
For just two errors, Bowman’s fielding rate was 0.991, Marion said.
There were some umpires who made a point to compliment the coach on his catcher’s ability to receive the ball on pitches, Marion said.
Laken said she really grew to like catching this season.
Asked for a favorite memory, she said she had several, but one that stands out was against North Stokes last season.
The Cards were losing until Laken hit a ball into the gap in left-center to drive in the tying and winning runs.
In addition to softball, the senior played varsity basketball her first three years at East.
She was very aggressive on the court and managed to have a few injuries, Marion noted. She chose not to play basketball this year and was fully healthy when the season started.
Her teachers and coaches all love Laken, her coach said. She is a very good student, too.
Laken said she is a member of both the National Honor Society and National Technical Honor Society.
She plans on studying nursing at SCC. She said her older brother Blake is also in the medical field as a paramedic for Surry County EMS.
She gave thanks to her parents for all their help and training over the years. She thanked the Cards’ coaching staff for helping her improve and thanked Bullington for allowing her to continue playing the game she loves.
“I also want to thank God for giving me the ability to play,” she said, and thanks to everyone who has cheered or supported her over the past four years.