Huntley softball pitcher Briana Bower met Josh Johnson when he was the pitching coach at Ball State in Indiana.
Bower attended camps at Ball State, and she said Johnson used to tell her, “If I were to coach you – but I’m probably not going to get you here [at Ball State] – I can get you up to 70 miles per hour.”
“I always knew in the back of my head, if he were to go somewhere big, I would go see it and check it out,” Bower said.
Johnson, a men’s fastpitch pitcher himself, is in the North American Fastpitch Association Hall of Fame and played on the U.S. Men’s National Fastpitch Softball Team at the 2015 Pan American Games. His Ball State pitching staffs were always near the top of the Mid-American Conference.
Over the summer, Mississippi State hired Samantha Ricketts as head softball coach, and she named Johnson her pitching coach.
Bower did check out Johnson’s new program last weekend in Starkville, Mississippi. She liked it enough to commit to the Bulldogs, announcing her decision Monday via Twitter.
Mississippi State has made the NCAA tournament seven of the past eight years and competes in the rugged SEC.
“For me, that’s a big deal,” Bower said. “That’s like the best of the best. It just gets me fired up because now I’ve got to work a little bit harder. When I go there, I need to be at my best level.”
As a sophomore last spring, Bower pitched Huntley to the IHSA Class 4A state championship, the program’s first state title. Bower had a 27-5 record with a 1.12 ERA, 353 strikeouts and 30 walks in 2121/3 innings. She went 7-0 in the postseason with a 0.91 ERA. She tossed an eight-inning shutout in a 1-0 win over St. Charles East in the state championship game.
Per NCAA rules, softball coaches cannot contact players until Sept. 1 of their junior year of high school. Bower said she received calls at midnight
Bower said she chose Mississippi State over opportunities at Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ole Miss and Clemson, among others.
“It’s just a proud moment for our program and for the Fox Valley and for our state,” Huntley coach Mark Petryniec said. “Bri is going to be representing Illinois at the biggest stage against the biggest teams. The SEC is a powerhouse, and it’s going to be phenomenal to flip on the TV and be able to watch her play.”