EAST MANATEE -- Melissa Dowling is arguably the most successful softball pitcher to come out of Manatee County.
Courtney Mirabella is currently the premier pitcher in the area.
Together, they hope to bring the Braden River softball program its first state championship.
They will have a lot of help starting with Erin Spivey, who as Erin Sutton was a standout infielder at Palmetto High, Manatee Community College and Barry University.
Spivey was hired recently as the new Braden River head softball coach. The first thing she did was name Dowling her pitching coach.
They called the Pirates a dream team and have set their goals on a state crown.
Spivey replaces Doug Powell, who resigned after the Pirates went 23-5 last season and fell to Okeechobee in the region semifinals.
Dowling was the strikeout queen when she pitched for Lakewood Ranch and hurled the Mustangs to a magical undefeated regular season in 2005.
Now 26, Dowling was an all-conference pitcher at Jacksonville State in Alabama, ranked the 13th-best pitcher in the country at one time, and played two years of professional softball in Europe.
The only person from the county who has been able to
match Dowling in strikeouts is Mirabella, a senior who has verbally committed to N.C. State.
"I have seen her throw and am excited to work with her and the other girls. We have very high expectations," Dowling said. "Courtney is very intense and a lot like me when I was in high school. She is very receptive to new things. She is going to a Division I school and has to get ready for that."
The Pirates have a lot of talent around Mirabella. They went to the state final four two seasons ago when a lot of their top players were sophomores.
They will have a head coach well versed in winning. Spivey helped Palmetto to one of its best seasons in school history in 2001 when the Tigers reached the region final. She was part of two conference titles at MCC as the Lancers' starting shortstop and came back as an assistant to win another two conference championships and back-to-back 50-win seasons.
Spivey was an assistant at Braden River for three years and took last season off after having her second child. When Powell resigned, the 29-year-old jumped at the chance to take the job.
"It's a good time right now in my life to coach," Spivey said. "I coached most of this senior group when they were freshmen and was excited to get the offer. I am real pumped up to take over a team this talented and be able to take them to the next level. Our goal is to win states."
Spivey is familiar with Mirabella and the other seniors and is impressed with their talent, worth ethic and dedication.
"The whole senior class is committed and very coachable. I couldn't ask for a better group of seniors. They are just as pumped up as I am," Spivey said. "As a coach I believe in making things happen rather than waiting for something to happen. We are going to score first and put numbers up. I like to be in front of the game."