It was a hard one-hopper, hit directly to Gabby Banda in front of the third-base bag. Banda fielded the ball cleanly and threw to Hailey Decker at second base for the second out. Decker then turned and fired a strike to Mattie Fowler at first base for a game-ending double play in Nebraska’s 4-2 upset at No. 3 Oregon that clinched the Huskers’ spot in the 2013 Women’s College World Series.
After recording the final out, Fowler threw the ball in the air, caught up in the moment.
“As soon as the ball hit my glove, I jumped off the base and chucked the ball into the air in excitement,” she said. “After the fact, I wish I had hung on to the ball.
“Celebrating with my team at the pitcher’s mound is one of the most special moments in my life. It had been my dream since I was five years old to make it to the WCWS. It was incredible to make it happen.”
Fowler played a large role in making it happen and not only with her glove. One inning before that celebration, Fowler delivered a clutch two-out, RBI single in the top of the sixth inning that extended Nebraska’s lead to two. Fowler has had a knack for delivering clutch hits in her first two seasons in a Husker uniform.
As a freshman, Fowler produced the game-winning run in five of Nebraska’s 14 Big Ten Conference victories. She played a key role in the Huskers’ perfect 3-0 extra-inning record in 2012. Fowler delivered game-winning RBI singles in two of Nebraska’s three extra-inning victories that season, while she singled and scored the winning run in the third win.
Last season, Fowler again produced five game-winning RBIs. She turned a one-run deficit into a one-run Husker victory with a walk-off two-out, two-run single against UNO. Three days later, Fowler hit a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning in the Huskers’ Big Ten opener against Northwestern, a game Nebraska would go on to win in extra innings. In the postseason, she produced the game-winning RBI in the Huskers’ Big Ten Tournament victory over Purdue.
Her reputation has earned her the nickname Mattie “Clutch” Fowler from Head Coach Rhonda Revelle.
“I just think that Mattie relishes those opportunities when the game is on the line,” Revelle said. “I don’t think she looks at them as pressure, she looks at them as an opportunity. She looks at it like she wants to be the one to come through for her team. There’s a real confidence, a calm confidence, in those situations with her up.”
A clutch effort by Revelle and her staff are a big reason why Fowler ultimately decided to become a Husker.
“I remember playing in South Dakota at 16-and-under nationals and game delays had pushed our game back,” Fowler said. “It was almost 1 a.m. and raining outside, and I looked up and saw Coach Revelle and Coach (Diane) Miller still watching in the stands. I realized right then how dedicated and special the Nebraska coaching staff must be.”
A Softball Family, Fowlers Have Persevered Through Adversity
Fowler grew up in a softball family in Tucson, Ariz. Her older sister Kenzie is a two-time All-American in her final season at Arizona. The Fowler sisters were raised by softball-loving parents Kelly and Lance Fowler. Kelly coached the Canyon del Oro High School softball team all four years of Mattie’s career, leading the Dorados to three state titles. Kelly and Lance teamed up to coach their daughters in the summer with the AZ Desert Thunder. The family home even has a batting cage and pitching area in the backyard.
“My parents deserve all of the credit,” Mattie said of her success. “They sacrificed so much for my sister and I to prepare for the opportunity we have now as student-athletes. Both of my parents coached us and pushed us to compete every day, work harder and love the game.”
While her parents instilled the love of the game in her, Mattie first took up the sport to be like her big sister.
“I started in tee-ball when I was five years old,” she said. “My sister had been playing for a year, and I wanted to go wherever she went. Kenzie was definitely one of the most influential people throughout my softball career. Since she is two years older, I had to work that much harder to try and keep up.”
Keeping up with Kenzie was no easy task. One of the most decorated high school players ever, Kenzie was a three-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and two-time National Gatorade Player of the Year, in addition to being a four-time first-team high school All-American. She moved on to pitch Arizona to the Women’s College World Series finals as a freshman in 2010, when she was a first-team All-American and earned a spot as one of 10 finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year. The next season, Kenzie was a second-team All-American and one of 25 player-of-the-year finalists.
Mattie was certainly no slouch herself. She claimed the 2011 Arizona Gatorade Player-of-the-Year honor and was a finalist for national player of the year. Fowler batted .569 with 17 homers, 22 doubles and a state-record 91 RBIs that season. An infielder at Nebraska, Mattie also showed she could pitch just like her big sister, as she resumed pitching for the only time in her high school as a senior, compiling a 14-0 record with a 0.85 ERA while leading Canyon del Oro to the state championship. The next season, as a freshman at Nebraska, Mattie earned family bragging rights when the 20th-ranked Huskers defeated No. 8 Arizona, 11-10, on Feb. 10, 2012, in Tempe, Ariz., in the second game of Mattie’s NU career.
Kenzie earned the start in the circle that game but did not go the distance. Unfortunately, that was a theme for her throughout the season as back problems limited her effectiveness. Nebraska and Arizona met again in 2013 – this time in Tucson – but Kenzie was not on the field that day, as she elected to redshirt last spring to allow herself to recover from offseason back surgery.
Mattie was going through rehabilitation of her own during that same time. In the summer of 2012, Mattie was playing for the AZ Desert Thunder when she tore her ACL at the Canada Cup. Fowler missed the entire fall season and was limited early in the year while never feeling 100 percent.
It was a tough time for Mattie, but once again she had Kenzie there.
“Recovering from knee surgery is one of the hardest things I have had to go through,” Mattie said. “One thing I have learned from Kenzie is that you have to remain positive throughout the entire process. You have to take it one day at a time and stay in the moment.
“Giving up is never an option, you simply have to find the best within yourself. We are both mentally stronger after overcoming the adversity of surgery. We talked each other through the process and still lean on each other today.”
The injury not only brought Fowler closer to her sister, but to her Husker family as well. It also reaffirmed her love for the sport.
“Going through rehab made me realize how thankful I was for my team and family at Nebraska, and how much I love the game of softball.”
Fowler More Than Just a Softball Player
While Fowler loves the game, she is much more than just a softball player. One of Nebraska’s most well-rounded student-athletes, Fowler is a dedicated, driven individual who excels in nearly every endeavor she undertakes.
In the classroom, Fowler says she has found her niche as a finance major. She was a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar in 2013, when she also earned academic All-Big Ten accolades. Fowler has also earned a spot on the Nebraska Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll every semester of her career.
From a leadership standpoint, Fowler was a co-captain on Nebraska’s Women’s College World Series team as a sophomore in 2013, and she will co-captain the Huskers again this spring. Off the field, Fowler also earned a Nebraska Student-Athlete HERO Leadership Award in 2013, when she was also one of 12 softball players to earn a Big Ten Sportsmanship Award.
She credits Nebraska’s support system for helping her develop as an all-around person.
“The best part of Nebraska is the overwhelming support. I am so thankful for my team and coaching staff, athletic trainers, academic advisors and life skills coordinators,” she said. “Every day is a chance for me to grow as a person and as a leader.
“I love representing something bigger than myself. I love representing Nebraska as an athlete, student and as a community ambassador.”
The feeling is reciprocal, as Revelle couldn’t imagine a better ambassador for Husker softball than Fowler.
“Wherever she spends her time and energy, she’s going to make sure she spends it with excellence,” Revelle said. “I remember distinctly telling (Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills) Keith Zimmer before Mattie even came to Nebraska that she would leave a lasting impression on this program in many ways. She hadn’t been here two months and Keith pulled me aside and said ‘you’re right.’”
Fowler has indeed already left her mark on the program, but she hopes there is more to come this spring.
“My goal for the 2014 Nebraska team is to win the Big Ten,” she said. “I want to take the momentum from last season and roll right into this season. The Nebraska softball brand is all about Heart and Hustle. We have the ability, the heart and the determination to do great things this season.”
Three Things You Didn’t Know About Mattie
1) She took dance classes for 12 years.
2) She’s obsessed with Harry Potter.
3) She’s afraid of dogs.