By Micah Brown —
After losing seven players to the 2016 MLB Draft, the 2017 season appeared to be a rebuilding year for U of L baseball. Corey Ray, the fifth overall pick, was the toughest to replace because of his ability to chase down fly balls in the outfield, consistency at the plate and speed on the bases. Ray ended his 2016 season with team-highs in steals (44), home runs (15) and RBIs (60).
Coach Dan McDonnell called upon sophomore Josh Stowers to fill Ray’s role. Finishing his freshman season with only 13 at-bats, Stowers’ improvement led to a starting role for the left fielder. Playing behind Ray proved to be a valuable experience for Stowers.
“Last year, I got to get under Corey Ray’s wing. He taught me a lot.” Stowers said. “We’re from the same area, our high schools are about 10 minutes a part from each other. He was pretty excited when he found out I was committed here. We spent countless nights hitting until 1 a.m. and talking about the game, and I still talk to him almost every weeknight.
“Corey told me to just keep my head down, play your game, give 100 percent in practice and it (will) translate into the games.”
Stowers has grown exponentially from year-one to year-two. As a freshman, he didn’t understand the game as well and his immaturity stretched beyond the field. Stowers said his immaturity set him back some, but he turned to his teammates.
“The game just came to me in high school because I was more athletic than everybody, and I developed a lot of bad habits,” Stowers said. “Growing, learning and talking to Corey and the other guys, learning how to change and adapt because baseball is all about adjustments.”
Stowers has started 38 of 44 games, batting .299 with an on base percentage of .432 that trails only Brendan McKay (.514) and Drew Ellis (.497). On the bases, Stowers’ 16 stolen bases is only behind Logan Taylor.
The Mt. Carmel graduate hit his first career home run against on April 28 against Toledo. On his next at bat against the Rockets, Stowers hit his second career homer. He described seeing the ball clear the fence as “a big sigh of relief.”
Stowers accompanied his career day at the plate against Toledo with a web-gem diving catch. He said he looks for defense to fuel the offense.
“During the game (against Toledo), we were kind of dead. After I made the catch, it brought a lot of energy into the dugout and from that point on we were able to put together some rallies and score some runs,” Stowers said.
McDonnell and his team have scratched the label of a rebuilding year, ascending to the No. 2 team in the country. With so many players called to step in larger roles, no player has answered the call more than outfielder Stowers.
Photo by Dalton Ray / The Louisville Cardinal