The potential was always there.

That’s what Blue Springs South softball coach Kristi Williams thought of star outfielder Bailey Fowler. She said she knew that Fowler was due for a breakout senior year.

But the degree that the Jaguars’ No. 3 hitter improved from her junior year to her senior season was something that was hard to predict – even for Williams.

A year after Fowler hit three home runs, drove in 20 runs and had a .395 batting average and 1.063 OPS, her numbers got even better this season.

She hit .439 with a 12 home runs, .925 slugging percentage and 42 RBIs (all school records). Fowler also scored 41 runs and posted a whopping 1.421 OPS. Her production with the Jaguars helped the team reach the Class 4 state championship game for the first time in school history (South lost 4-3 to Troy Buchanan) and she was the catalyst for an offense that averaged 8.5 runs per game.

Fowler also proved she could deliver in the clutch, hitting a game-tying home run in the state championship  game off a pitcher who hadn’t given up a home run all season.

Because she was instrumental in the unprecedented success for South softball, Fowler is The Examiner’s 2016 Softball Player of the Year.

“I don’t know that it was a surprise,” Williams said of Fowler’s season. “I always knew the potential was there. I don’t know that I expected 12 (home runs). That’s a lot. She hit home runs in over a third of the games. That’s kind of a big deal. I never expected her to put up these power numbers. I just wanted her to hit the ball hard.”

The senior didn’t get to that level by accident. At least twice a week she was taking several practice cuts in her garage, hitting a ball off a tee into a net. Not only did she practice in her spare time, she got professional instruction from former Kansas City Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane, who helped her fine tune her swing.

“I would always work on my own just taking reps by hitting the ball in the net in our garage,” Fowler said. “It was pretty cool (to work with Macfarlane). He obviously knows what he’s doing and he’s fun to be around and encouraging.

“He would tell me things that were off with my swing. He broke down my swing and helped me improve it. The big thing he told me was to get my hands going because he always told me I had quick hands.”

The results showed on the field. There were few times when Fowler didn’t hit the ball hard. Williams said her senior was just trying to make contact rather than trying to make hard contact every at-bat like she had in the past. That led to the major improvement.

“Her approach got better,” Williams said. “She wasn’t up there trying to hit home runs. She always did what we needed. She’s extremely smart and was willing to take walks and take pitches. I think that was a lot of the difference, that patience.”

And because she took the approach of just making contact, that led to her developing a natural home run swing.

“She has so much power and she hits it hard,” Williams said. “Even her ground balls are hard. When she hits it in the infield, it’s hard. She tends to put the ball in the air a lot but she hits a lot of line drives, too. She uses every bit of her body in her swing, which led to her hitting the ball so hard.”

Fowler credits a lot of her production from the players that surrounded her in the lineup – most notably Madi Hecker, who hit .420 in the No. 4 spot.

“I always knew if I didn’t come up with the big hit, there’s eight other people that could come up with the big hit,” Fowler said. “Kailee (Odegard) had a great season along with Madison. They helped get us going.”

And Fowler didn’t just do it with her bat. She was also an excellent fielder. She had a .971 fielding percentage in the outfield and, although she was not called upon to switch positions, Williams said she had the ability to play every position on the field well except catcher – a place she’s never played in her career.

“Bailey can play eight positions on the field,” Williams said. “She’s always bounced around in practice. Some people don’t realize she’s a really good pitcher, too, but we needed her other places. She was our backup in six different positions.”

That could be a selling point for Fowler as she will move on to play in college at the end of the school year. She has yet to commit to a university but schools like Northeastern Oklahoma A&M and Northern Kentucky have shown interest.

Although Williams said that Fowler is not “a flashy player,” she said that her star could be a diamond in the rough for whichever team recruits her.

“She will put in the work to be a contributor wherever she falls,” Williams said. “Whoever gets her is getting a find. She’s not super flashy, but she is consistent and a hard worker. She will grind it out over anyone.”