H.S. softball: Buckfield's Julia Dow pitching again, itching for playoffs

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Julia Dow pitching a recent game in Buckfield against Vinalhaven/North Haven. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

BUCKFIELD — The Buckfield softball team was having what could have been a special season last year until a seemingly harmless bunt attempt turned into a bad break for the Bucks.

Starting pitcher Julia Dow was lost halfway through the season after breaking her non-throwing thumb trying to bunt. Later in the season, the Bucks would miss Dow in a narrow playoff loss.

Dow is now back in the circle for Buckfield, which is eyeing a better postseason run with its No. 1 pitcher back in the mix.

“I’m really excited and I hope we go far, because I know this team has the ability to do it,” Dow said.

As a freshman, Dow got to pitch in the Class D South regional final, a loss to rival and eventual state champion Richmond. The now-junior called the experience, including getting to play at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, “exciting.”

She and the Bucks were hoping to get back there last year, but first came Dow’s injury, then came a loss at Greenville in the regional semifinals.

“I think it was tough, because then like Abby Shields was the center fielder that was really, really good. But when you go to Greenville and she has to pitch, and you don’t have the normal lineup, and Julia in the lineup and doing things, I mean we went to Greenville and we lost by one,” Bucks coach Sandy Albert said.

“But I think if we’d had Julia there pitching, we would have beat them. So it did make a big difference. I’m hoping this year it will help us out to come back to that.”

Dow called having to watch the playoff loss from the dugout “awful,” and said she wanted to cry.

The right-hander had hoped to come back before the end of last season, but she said it took her about a month to feel 100 percent again. That was too late for last season, but it gave her plenty of time to get ready for this year.

“She pitched all winter. You have to as a pitcher in this sport now. You didn’t have to as much (in the past),” Albert said. “They all pitch with their pitching coaches during the winter, and so she was ready to roll.

“And, actually, we were in a really good spot pitcher-catcher week. They all came in and pitched, but they were in really good shape and were ready to go.”

Dow said her mindset going into this season was “just to bring it, and put my all into this.”

“I think she was pretty excited to come back,” Albert said. “She’s pretty straight-laced. It’s hard to read her emotions too much, but I think she was pretty excited to be back.”

The Bucks have not had the same kind of success as last year. They already have twice as many losses this year (four) as last year (two to Richmond), but Dow said she thinks she has become a better pitcher.

“I think I’m more aware of what I’m doing and more in control,” she said. “And just like how I’m pitching.”

Buckfield has changed, too, this season. The Bucks have not had to rely strictly on Dow in the circle. Freshman Cara Merrill has stepped in and taken on some of the pitching load, and that has only helped the team.

“I think it’s there, a little bit of a competition,” Albert said. “It’s always a friendly competition, right? But (Julia) being two years older, they can look to each other for support. And they’re completely different pitchers, which is better for your team.”

Dow has embraced being a role model of sorts for Merrill.

“She’s a pretty good pitcher, and she has a pitching coach and stuff, but, I mean, it’s a whole different thing from going from middle school to high school, so I’ve definitely given her some tips on that,” Dow said.

When Merrill pitches, Dow moves over to first base, where Albert said she has played well.

And as far as at the plate — and bunting? Dow said she was a little nervous at first, but now she does not even think about it.

“Sometimes it’s hard to recover from an injury like that because you’re scared to hit and scared to do things, and she hasn’t been at all,” said Albert, who called Dow “mentally tough.”

The Bucks will need their ace to show that mental toughness when the postseason begins. Buckfield is on course to meet Richmond on the road in the playoffs. Dow said she is just “grateful” for the chance to pitch in the playoffs again.

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Julia Dow pitching a recent game in Buckfield against Vinalhaven/North Haven. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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