Ava Apodaca waits for the ball as St. Dom’s coach Abigail Bowie, in the foreground, hits to her players for fielding practice Monday during St. Dominic Academy’s softball practice earlier this week. Andree Kehn Buy this Photo

AUBURN — The St. Dominic Academy softball team did a lot of learning and teaching this season, and it started with the coach.

Abigail Bowie hadn’t been part of a softball team since she was a high school player. She took over the Saints program in 2020 after being asked to coach by some of her students — she’s a Spanish teacher at St. Dom’s.

“I haven’t been a part of a softball program for a few years now, probably more than 10 years,” Bowie, who also coaches the St. Dom’s field hockey team, said. “I have just seen (the players) have such a fast improvement on things that we need to work on. Maybe, that’s the nature of the game that I have forgotten about, not being around it. It definitely has been a fast, steep, uphill climb, but we have improved so fast and well; it’s night and day from the beginning of the season. If we told the players at the beginning of the season that we made this far they probably would say, ‘How did we do that?’”

The Saints (8-9), who entered the playoffs as the sixth seed, will play top-seeded Searsport (11-6) in the Class D South regional final at St. Joseph’s College in Standish on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Bowie needing to be reacclimated to softball, especially early in the season, allowed the players to play an active role in the team’s growth.

“Part of having a newer coach, and her saying she’s getting her softball brain back, is that there’s an open line of communication,” senior catcher Lucy Frenette said. “When we are reviewing plays, everyone has their equal input. We can be like, ‘Oh, yeah, don’t forget about coverage here.’ Everybody has that input, and Ms. Bowie welcomes that. We are all learning and we are all helping.”

The season started with an 11-2 loss to Hall-Dale, then the Saints rattled off three wins against Richmond, Traip and Sacopee Valley. The young team then hit some bumps in the road and lost seven straight games.

During that losing stretch, Bowie decided to get back to basics.

“There were some moments where we were getting stuck, not making the throws to first base, not fielding the easy ground balls,” Bowie said. “So we just had one practice where I said, ‘All we are going to do is we are going to have groundballs and you are going to throw to first base.’ We had a few practices like that, where we decided to slow it down and make the simple plays and get the easy outs. I think we have definitely improved on that.”

Benedicte Yombe keeps her eye on the ball Monday during a fielding drill while Alyssa Hart, left, waits for her turn during St. Dominic Academy’s softball practice earlier this week. Andree Kehn

Bowie relied on Frenette and third baseman Alyssa Hart to be on-field leaders during games. Frenette says the most common message she offers to teammates is to remain calm.

“I am always reminding the team that if an error is made, softball is a game of, ‘OK, you make an error, you can let that one go, we can (bounce back) on the next play,’” Frenette said. “It’s not like other sports, like hockey, (in which) an error can lead to other things on the same play. The play is over, you can reset, you come back and you make the next out.”

St. Dom’s won three of its final four regular season games. Frenette said that she noticed during the finale, a 5-3 win over Richmond, how well things were coming together.

“It was a combination of Kathleen (Dean) pitching really well and we were making outs in the field and we were all hitting,” Frenette said. “I was looking around and was like, ‘We are all coming together.”

The Saints also have built chemistry through team bonding. The players who also play field hockey brought a tradition to the softball team called effort ball. After each game, a player is awarded a signed game ball by the player who earned it the previous game.

“We have this thing called an (effort) ball, too, when a person gets it and you give it to whoever did the best and (worked) the hardest,” infielder Bella Perryman said. “That brings us together, too.”

St. Dom’s pitcher Kathleen Dean participates in a fielding drill during practice earlier this week. Andree Kehn Buy this Photo

The Saints entered the playoffs with a 6-9 record. That was go0d enough to earn a bye into the quarterfinals, which Bowie said helped the team’s confidence.

A win over Vinalhaven advanced St. Dom’s to the regional semifinals — a home game against No. 7 North Yarmouth Academy.

The Panthers won all three of the teams’ meetings during the regular season, but Perryman helped propel St. Dom’s in Saturday’s semifinal — thanks, in part, to teaching and learning in the middle of the game.

“I have been noticing she has been popping (the ball) up a lot, so that tells me she’s dropping her back shoulder to make the barrel of the bat go down, and that’s popping the ball up,” Bowie said. “That’s an easy fix, move your hands up and you get a nice, easy swing. I told her to do that, we get a nice home run out of it.”

Perryman hit a two-run blast gave the Saints 5-4 lead and capped a four-run fifth.

Coach Abigail Bowie points toward the field while describing the next drill for the Saint Dominic Academy softball team during practice earlier this week. Andree Kehn

The game went into extra innings, and ended when Perryman scored the winning run in the ninth inning to give St. Dom’s a 8-7 win and earn it a spot in Wednesday’s D South title game.

“I like to listen to what others tell me when I am swinging because they can see stuff that I can’t,” Perryman said. “I try to listen to them.”

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