Jessica van Horn needed Sunday.
Her 95-year-old grandfather died Friday, and her Bowie softball team was facing Charles H. Flowers, a key rival, Monday. So, to unwind, she headed to the stables for a horse-jumping clinic.
“It’s just been a hard week, and that really calmed me down,” van Horn, a junior, said after her team beat Flowers, 20-4. “Horses are just very therapeutic and calming.
“I know he’s in a better place now, but I just needed that release before I came out here. It gets really tense out here. I know that. I just needed that release.”
Just as Bowie needed her.
Van Horn’s two-run inside-the-park home run in the fourth inning gave Bowie its first lead of the game.
She hit another inside-park home run in the sixth, and later in the inning, she belted another pitch deep into the outfield. As van Horn raced around the bases for the third time that day, the ball rolled downhill toward the fence at Flowers’ uneven field. While van Horn ran, Bowie coach Sarah Bible, in the third base coaching box, considered the possibility of van Horn hitting two homers in an inning, but ultimately, Bible raised her arms when van Horn hit third base.
“I held her up, and I’m probably going to get shot later,” Bible said, referring to an assistant coach who voiced displeasure with the decision. “She actually turned to me and said to me, ‘Coach, I was pushing my luck today. I’m glad you held me.’”
After the game, Bible said van Horn probably could have scored, but there were several factors to consider.
“She’s not our fleet-of-foot, fastest girl,” Bible said before immediately segueing into compliments. “She’s adorable. She’s almost a straight-A student.”
And not long before, on the hottest day of the season, van Horn had just sprinted around the diamond on her first home run of the inning.
If there was anything working in van Horn’s favor, it was her excitement level. Already pumped up for the rivalry game, van Horn was sitting on a bucket near the opening in Bowie’s dugout fence between her sixth-inning at bats when a foul ball nearly hit her — providing even a little more exhilaration.
“My adrenaline’s been going this whole game,” van Horn said. “I’m probably going to sleep like a baby tonight.”
Monday was the pinnacle, but in her third year as a starter, van Horn is having her best season.
“I really see a huge difference in her batting,” Bible said. “That’s one of the reasons why she made the team in the first place. She has a great stick. But she’s just now really seeing the ball. She’s very comfortable at the plate.
“To be the player that kind of pushes us over the edge I think is great. She led today. There’s a difference. There’s a difference in keeping your team in it. There’s another difference in leading. I think she led today.”
Van Horn has made similar progress riding horses, which she’s done for 11 years. She started by learning pacing and position, and Sunday, she cleared a course with obstacles three to four feet high.
“You kind of have to learn the basics before you start flying over fences,” van Horn said.