WCIA — Bailey Dowling is still getting plenty of swings in but the thought of not getting a final high school season is fresh on her mind.
“It’s just hard,” the St. Joseph-Ogden senior softball standout said over FaceTime. “I feel like it’s the five stages and I’m still in the denial.”
Dowling is working out in her family’s barn. They moved to the property in large part so the three-time WCIA 3 Softball Player of the Year could practice whenever she wanted. It’s paid off the last few weeks after the season was put in a holding pattern due to COVID-19, just four days before the Spartans’ first scheduled game.
“I’ve just been doing everything myself,” Dowling said. “Whether that’s hitting off the tee, having my mom go out there and play catch with me or whatever it is.”
The No. 3 prospect in the country has even enlisted her dog Buddy to help shag softballs for her.
It’s not how one of the nation’s top recruits envisioned her final year at SJO would go. Already signed with Alabama, Dowling is just 11 home runs away from breaking the national high school record for career home runs, she got the Illinois record last season and currently sits at 65.
“If something does happen to our season, I can say I got that as a junior and I think that’s pretty cool,” she said.
The records are nice but Dowling’s main focus has been staying positive about getting another shot to suit up with her teammates, as they try to make it back to state. Bailey played in East Peoria as a freshman, finishing second, but hasn’t made it back since.
“You could just feel the energy whenever we would practice,” Dowling said about this year’s squad. “Just that itself, it’s not necessarily about the records but it’s more about the team.”
“Thank God the IHSA hasn’t done the ol’ cancellation like a lot of other sports so we can still remain positive that we can get some kind of season in,” St. Joseph-Ogden softball coach Larry Sparks said. “I’ve been checking in with the girls, sending out a group text on Saturday just trying to remain positive and to keep doing what you can within the realm of what you have to work with.”
And for now, that means more time in the barn for Dowling.