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Owens still key for Towson Hurler throws through illness


Towson High's Jessica Owens isn't one to speak out of turn. There's a hint of shyness -- quiet confidence, if you will -- that defines the very nature of the 16-year-old junior.

But there are a few things that the 1992 Baltimore County Softball Pitcher of the Year would like you to know.

No. 1, she prefers Jessica to Jesse (leave that to the Olympian).

No. 2, she's always liked basketball better (she's been playing it since she was 6).

And No. 3, she learned most of her award-winning pitching technique from her dad, Len.

Oh, and just one more thing. As coach Paul Becker recently found out, she's been playing all season with bronchitis.

"You could tell she was sick, but she wouldn't tell you anything," said Becker. "She was out there hacking and running out of breath. I didn't know what was going on."

Only after speaking to her mother did Becker discover his star pitcher's illness, one that she's been trying to fight off for over a month.

Owens never looks for excuses. She grew up with sports in her family and feels most comfortable when playing. Besides, spending a month out of action would create a crisis.

"I'd get bored," said the 5-foot-3 hurler. "I don't like not doing anything."

Instead, Owens has been throwing upward of 300 pitches every day in practice, and even picked up a win over rival Sparrows Point -- one of only two teams to beat the Generals last season in their run to the Class 2A regional semifinals.

After going 13-1 with a 2.11 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings a year ago, she's won three of four decisions so far this season, losing only to No. 2 Archbishop Spalding, and struck out 34 in 28 innings.

The Spalding loss came at the height of Owens' illness. Attempting to play through a deep cough and severe fatigue, she gave up an uncharacteristic seven earned runs.

Yet she still went the distance and never asked for relief.

"She's the kind of kid who gives her best every time out and never complains," said Becker. "The kids like her and I think they play extra hard for her. She's very likeable."

Unless, of course, you're an opposing batter.

The Generals' captain uses a windmill delivery to fire the ball toward the plate at well over 50 mph. She also has good command of her changeup and riser, and continues to work on a curve-drop pitch.

After learning a basic pitching style from her father -- also her coach for several seasons in Lutherville-Timonium Recreation slo-pitch leagues -- Owens perfected her craft with the help of Anne Arundel County pitching guru Jack Crandell.

Becker says she's improved considerably in her control since coming to high school. She's now able to spot her pitches and work the ball around the plate with pinpoint precision.

The windmiller, however, is far from satisfied.

"I'd like to throw a lot harder," said Owens. "I know I can do it. I need to get bigger arms."

She's also become a force at the plate, where her 21 RBI and .602 on-base percentage last year led the team.

Though she's still on medication, Owens says she's finally beginning to feel like her old self.

That's probably a good thing, because the Generals (6-2) are scheduled to play eight games in the next two weeks.

Owens expects to pitch in most of those games, and hopes to help Towson get the 12 wins Becker thinks will be necessary to make the playoffs.

In the meantime, the soft-spoken junior will go to practice every day, do what she's asked and not complain about a thing.

"I just want to play," said Owens. "I don't like to brag or anything."

5) She lets her pitching do the talking.

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