Catawba lands Salisbury star Bowden

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 1, 2013

SALISBURY — Once upon a time, Catawba early signee Chance Bowden wasn’t much of a hitter.
In high school baseball, coaches can use the designated hitter to bat for anyone, not just the pitcher, and while it seems strange now, back in 2011, Salisbury coach Scott Maddox often employed the DH to hit for Bowden, his freshman first baseman.
“Chance still had his middle school swing that first year,” Maddox said. “But in high school, you’re seeing fastballs that are 80-plus mph and some decent breaking balls, and pitchers were finding the holes in his swing.”
The record book shows that Bowden got 28 at-bats as a freshman and managed four hits.
Fortunately for the Hornets and for Rowan County baseball, Bowden was not discouraged by his .143 batting average as a youngster. He looked on the bright side — hey, at least he was a good enough first baseman to start for the varsity, and he resolved to make himself better offensively.
“Just a lot of hard work with my dad and getting stronger and gaining more confidence,” Bowden said.
Bowden also was driven by the example of Wade Moore. Bowden’s father worked with Moore’s father for many years, and the families were close. When Moore was starring in baseball and football for West Rowan, he was Bowden’s role model.
When Bowden returned for his sophomore year at Salisbury in 2012, he wasn’t resembling Moore yet, but his bat had improved 200 percent. He wasn’t just in the lineup, he was batting fifth, and he responded with a .348 batting average and 14 RBIs.
“He came back as a sophomore determined he was going to hit for us every game,” Maddox said. “He’d gotten a lot better at keeping his hands back, and he had a very good season.”
In the summer of 2012, a lot of Rowan County baseball fans became acquainted with Bowden for the first time through games at Newman Park or via their radios. He was batting third opening night for coach Jim Gantt’s Legion team, and in Rowan’s first four games, he drove in nine runs. Playing Legion ball had been a lifelong dream for Bowden, and he came out of the chute on fire.
A wrist injury short-circuited that season for Bowden and proved a lethal blow for a Rowan team that may have qualified for the state tournament had he stayed healthy. He only had 90 at-bats, but he produced 24 RBIs.
“He got an opportunity,” Maddox said. “And he definitely made the most of it.”
That fine Legion debut raised expectations for Bowden. He lived up to the hype as a Salisbury junior. He batted .433 with 18 RBIs and 23 runs scored for the Hornets, and when you threw in some gold-glove work at first base, he was one of the top all-round players in the county.
But he wasn’t done improving. Last summer brought more steps forward. He was tremendous in his second tour of duty with the Legion team. He led Rowan County in just about everything — batting average (.421), runs (41), RBIs (42), hits (48), doubles (15) and home runs (4).
The four homers were a bit of a surprise, but while Bowden is mostly a gap hitter, he’s learned how to turn on pitches on the inner half of the plate. He walloped some soaring rockets over the left-field wall at Newman Park.
Bowden is a strong right-handed hitter at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds and is getting stronger every day.
“I’ve just kept improving a little bit at a time, I guess,” Bowden said. “I try to do something every day to make myself a better player, whether it’s swinging, lifting or running.”
Through his dual role of coaching Rowan County Legion as well as Catawba, Gantt had an opportunity to get to know Bowden the last two summers, and Bowden got to know Gantt. It was pretty clear by last summer that Gantt wanted to add Bowden’s bat to a Catawba program that is always nationally ranked in Division II.
It’s a good match — an old-school coach and an old-school player. Bowden doesn’t say a whole lot, he just prepares hard and plays hard. Old-timers would say he plays the game the right way — plenty of hustle but not much flash.
Bowden was recruited by larger schools such as Western Carolina, but he chose to stay home at Catawba.
“I think Chance is a Division I player, and I know a lot of kids just want to go to the biggest school they can go to,” Maddox said. “But Catawba is a great place for him. He’s comfortable with Coach Gantt and he loves playing ball at Newman Park. He’ll fit in great at Catawba. He’s not a kid that’s looking for the limelight. He just wants to play ball, and, unfortunately, there’s not as many of those kids as there used to be.”
Bowden achieved the first goal for his senior year by signing with Catawba.
“My goal since I realized I might be able to play in college was to be able to sign on National Signing Day,” Bowden said.
With Brian Bauk graduated, a lot will be expected of Bowden in his senior season. As one of just three Salisbury seniors, he’ll be counted on not just to hit and field but to lead the Hornets and probably to pitch some as well. His arm has gotten stronger every year, and Maddox said catchers who caught Bowden in fall league games were amazed at his velocity.
“He could have a really big senior season, but that depends on him getting pitches to hit,” Maddox said. “How much he gets to swing it depends on how much Riley Myers and Ryan Jones step up for us, but I think Chance is taking very well to a new leadership role.”
Bowden called for a player work day in November to clean up the baseball field, and his teammates showed up.
“I was fortunate to be taught a lot of things by great players like Philip Tonseth, Scott van der Poel and Brian Bauk,” Bowden said. “I’ve got to try to lead the team like they did, and I just called all the guys and said, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ We pulled weeds and we got a lot done on the field that needed to be done.”
Friends and family filled the Salisbury media center to watch Bowden sign his official papers.
Bowden was thrilled when his childhood hero Moore arrived to offer his congratulations, and Bowden’s teammates seemed as excited as he was about signing day.
“Chance is a great player, obviously,” Jones said. “He’s also a great teammate, and he’s going to go far in baseball.”
Myers agreed.
“We know how hard Chance has worked to get here to signing day,” he said. “And the best is yet to come.”