Heather Bowen stepped up in final season with Utes

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah infielder Heather Bowen (37) celebrates hitting a two-run homerun during the NCAA softball regional game at Dumke Family Softball Stadium Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Utah senior third baseman Heather Bowen had flown under the radar relative to her classmates — the pitching tandem of Katie Donovan and Miranda Viramontes — up until this season.

Bowen, one of the program’s best offensive players and versatile defenders, moved to the forefront in her final softball season as a Ute. She led the team on and off the field, embraced a leadership role and actually fed off that to produce her best statistical season.

Bowen went into her final series this weekend against Oregon State at Dumke Family Softball Stadium leading the Utes in batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.632), on-base percentage (.381, tied), RBIs (40), home runs (nine), doubles (17) and hits (47). She entered the weekend ranked 16th in the nation in doubles.

“I came in in the best physical shape of my life,” Bowen said. “I also was mentally stronger, a lot more confident, a lot more calm, and I knew that I had to be a leader on the team. I think that also helped because I stepped into that role and it kind of all fell into place for me. I just did better when I was responsible for my teammates. Also, part of me felt like I had to do better because we lost so many starters last year.”

Bowen could settle in the past for being a cog in a big powerful machine. She regularly batted behind three-time all-American and two-time Pac-12 player of the year Hannah Flippen, three-time all-conference selection Anissa Urtez and 2017 all-region selection Bridget Castro.

She not only served as the rock in the middle of a young lineup this season but also held the distinction of being the team’s lone senior position player and only returning starter on the infield.

“A little bit of it was pressure, but Hannah Flippen always says, ‘Pressure is a privilege,’” Bowen said. “I think that’s the way I looked at it. This is an opportunity for me to get better and an opportunity for me to step up. I took the chance, and it worked out for me.”

Bowen left Centennial High in Nevada as a record-setting shortstop who had broken or tied state records for hits, runs and doubles and ranked among the state’s leaders in RBIs, walks and career batting average.

She immediately had a “humbling” experience at Utah when she went to the bottom of the pecking order and even switched positions to the outfield for her first two seasons. She earned all-region honors last season on a team that won 37 games.

With the Utes having lost five starters and seven seniors coming into this season, Bowen became the tone setter, the emotional leader, the one who held teammates accountable on and off the field and the one who put out any potential fires during a long season.

“Heather was kind of done learning,” Utes coach Amy Hogue said. “I couldn’t teach her a whole lot more about the game at this point, so she got to focus on that leadership role almost exclusively. Sometimes that makes their game play go down a little bit, to step up in a leadership role and worry about the whole group more than just yourself. That didn’t happen for her. That’s how talented she is. As a matter of fact, I think at times it elevated her play.”

Bowen, Donovan and Viramontes wrap up their careers on Senior Day at noon Saturday. They entered Friday night’s game having gone 129-106 overall and 40-50 in the Pac-12. This season (20-29, 2-20) has been the only time the group finished under .500 after making three straight NCAA Super Regional appearances their first three years, including hosting last season.

Hogue will feel a mix of emotions as she sends the seniors off after four years.

“I get excited for them because I feel like when you graduate three kids that you know are going to go do a great job with the rest of their lives, that they’re prepared for life, it’s an exciting day,” Hogue said. “When you feel like maybe they’re not prepared and the real world is going to kick their butt, then there’s some fear there. These three are as ready as any that I’ve had.

“Actually, this season not going perfectly probably prepared them more for real life than we want to believe. You’ve always got find a reason why trials are difficult, and that’s one of the reasons why I think having a tough year was probably a good thing for them. Real life doesn’t drop you into Super Regionals three times in a row very often. Usually you have some forwards movement and some backwards movement. Honestly they never really took any backwards steps until this season.”

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