ST. JOSEPH -- It wasn't always easy getting Bailey Dowling to the softball diamond.
"My mom was the one that told me, 'C'mon Bailey. Let's go, you can meet new friends. You can play T-ball.' And I was like, 'I don't want to. I don't like meeting new friends.' My first practice there was a ball and I went out and dove for it and I got mud and grass all over me and that was when I knew this is my sport," Dowling said.
Calling it her "sport" is an understatement. As a freshman at St. Joseph-Ogden, Dowling batted an eye-popping .650. Her 22 home runs broke the school record and ties the IHSA mark for second most in a season.
"I've gotten to the point where I expect her to hit a home run every time," SJO head coach Randy Wolken said. "When we have batting practice here, people stop and watch her hit and she'll almost hit every single one over the trees and out of the park."
"When I step in the box, I have to know 100-percent, you're going to hit this ball Bailey," the Alabama commit said. "I have to feel confident about it. When I hit some of those home runs I just knew it once it went off the bat."
Two of Bailey's long balls came in the postseason, helping propel the Spartans to the state tournament and a second-place finish.
"I've always been the youngest girl on all my teams," Dowling said. "Coming in, I just had to prove to everyone that I can be that third batter, I can help win this game for you guys."
But it's not just her offense that makes Dowling a premier player.
"I wouldn't take anything away from her defense," Wolken added. "She's a great defensive shortstop. For us to get second in state she had to make I don't know how many diving plays and just tremendous plays."
So how would Dowling choose to win a high-stakes game?
"I'd always want the diving catch," she said. "I think that's awesome."
Dowling, who turned 15 in April, has three years of high softball to do just that. Even, perhaps get better.
"She's so good now it's hard to picture her getting a whole lot better," added Wolken.
"I accomplished most of my goals," said Dowling about her first prep season. "I mean, I set really high goals, but looking forward, I'll have 20 more by the end of next season and hopefully they'll be accomplished."
And for her outstanding play, Bailey Dowling is the WCIA 3 2017 Softball Player of the Year.
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