Late May provided bittersweet moments for the St. Joseph-Ogden High School softball team.
Sweet in the sense junior shortstop Bailey Dowling won the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year honor for the second straight year on May 30.
Bitter in the sense the Spartans’ season ended on May 22 with a 4-2 loss to Olympia in a Class 2A sectional semifinal game in Stanford.
Dowling, an Alabama commit, compiled a .674 average with 22 home runs and 47 RBI this season. She also drew 31 walks and compiled an on-base percentage of .760 and a slugging percentage of 1.495. The state’s all-time record holder for career home runs, Dowling will enter her senior season with 65 career home runs.
“Bailey is a game-changer and, hands down, the best player I’ve ever watched or coach,” said Laura Harms, Kankakee Bishop McNamara’s coach. “Unless you intentionally walk her, every time she is a threat. She waits to find her pitch and everything looks effortless.”
Intentionally walking Dowling is exactly what Olympia did on May 22. Dowling, SJO’s leadoff hitter, never saw a pitch in her four plate appearances, with Olympia putting her on every time she strode into the batter’s box.
The first time paid off for the Spartans, who scored their only two runs in the top of the first inning to take a 2-0 lead.
Dowling walked to lead off the game before Hannah Dukeman singled to advance Dowling to second. A walk to Savannah Smith followed to load the bases with no outs, and SJO went ahead 1-0 when Katie Poulter walked to bring home Dowling. With the bases still loaded and two outs, Lauren Trankina walked to bring home Dukeman and increase SJO’s lead to 2-0.
But Olympia tied the game at 2 in the bottom of the second inning and went ahead 3-2 in the fourth before tacking on another run in the fifth to go up 4-2.
SJO had multiple chances to add runs after the first inning, but couldn’t manage to do so.
Dukeman went 2 for 4 to lead the Spartans, while Poulter and Raegan Crippen each went 1 for 3 to account for all four of SJO’s hits. The Spartans walked 10 times, with Smith doing so three times, but SJO left 12 runners stranded on base.
Zoey Witruk suffered the loss for SJO, throwing all six innings and giving up four runs (two earned) on three hits. She struck out one and walked seven.
SJO concluded the season with a 22-10 record and the program’s 11th straight regional title.