The crowning of Kenzie Fowler as the first-ever repeat Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year began as a ruse.
Players from Canyon del Oro High School's state championship baseball and softball teams filled the campus gymnasium Tuesday. Three from each side sat on a dais and answered questions about the high and low points of their seasons.
Then athletic director Dave Thatcher, acting as the emcee, asked Fowler if she thought she would win the award again this year. The 18-year-old pitcher sputtered, stuttered and acted confused — until the trophy was pulled from a cabinet inside the podium.
Her eyes welled up.
"I had absolutely no idea," she said. "My friends are really good liars."
Fowler became the first softball player in the award's 24-year history to win it twice — but her reaction still featured the right amount of wonder.
"You can sum up a lot of what Kenzie is when she's shocked that she wins," coach Amy Swiderski said.
Fowler's stunning statistics say she shouldn't be.
At Canyon del Oro, she went 105-8 with a 0.15 ERA in 685 1/3 innings. The Star's three-time Southern Arizona Player of the Year threw 30 no-hitters and graduated with a school-best 161 hits.
This season, she went 25-2 with a 0.05 ERA.
Fowler is one of two Arizonans to win the national award for their sport — fellow CDO graduate Bre Ladd won the volleyball trophy in 2002.
One could argue the trophy cements Fowler as the best-ever modern high school softball player.
She became the sixth person in any sport to win the award more than once, joining basketball stars LeBron James, Greg Oden and Candace Parker, track star Marion Jones and volleyball player Cynthia Barboza.
Fowler was too modest to compare herself to them.
"To see my name next to their name doesn't really make sense," she said.
The award honors athletes for their accomplishments on the field and in the classroom. Fowler was chosen from about 371,000 prep softball players in part because of her 3.39 GPA and volunteer work at University Medical Center.
Almost exactly two years ago, Fowler underwent life-saving surgery at UMC to unclog a vein near her heart as a result of thoracic outlet syndrome.
"It's a big deal for me," she said. "I didn't know whether I could play softball again."
Fowler spent last week at the United States national team tryout camp. Although she did not make the roster, she called it "the most incredible atmosphere I've ever been in."
Fowler will enroll at the UA in the fall, and should be the Wildcats' ace in the spring.
"This is a special thing, because it's the last thing that tied into high school," she said of the Gatorade award. "I can kind of go out with a bang — or just leave with a really special feeling inside.
"High school has been such a big part of my life. I need to let go, but I don't really want to because I love it here."
Kenzie Fowler's Career Stats
Record compiled at CDO
ERA over 685 1/3 innings