EAST MANATEE -- Melissa Dowling put the Lakewood Ranch High softball program on the map and paved the way for East Manatee to become a softball hotbed.
Now she will focus on helping Braden River continue its success after being named the Pirates head coach on Monday. She replaces Erin Spivey, who resigned at the end of last season after three years as head coach.
Dowling finished her high school career in 2005 setting a bevy of pitching records that still stand while leading the Mustangs to their only undefeated regular season and a national ranking. They were ranked first in the state nearly all season.
"I am excited about the opportunity. It's always been a dream of mine to be a high school head coach," Dowling said. "Erin gave me a lot of guidance into how to run a successful program, and I learned a lot from my dad (Joe Dowling), who coached at Lakewood Ranch for five years."
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The right-hander went on to have a standout college career at Jacksonville State (Alabama), helping the team come to within two games of the College World Series while earning Ohio Valley Conference honors.
She also played professionally in Italy and Holland before returning home, where she worked as an assistant coach at State College of Florida. She was an assistant at Braden River for the past three years under Spivey.
The 28 year-old Dowling is currently a physical education teacher at Bashaw Elementary School in Bradenton, where she will remain as a teacher.
Braden River's team was in existence when Dowling was performing her magical pitching feats at Lakewood Ranch, but it's
now a heated rivalry between two softball programs that are among the best in the state.
She inherits a program that returns the nucleus of its players from a 14-11 team and includes multiple Division I prospects.
"We are going to be fine for a few years to come, and I am happy to be part of this program," Dowling said. "I play to win and am excited about the challenges that will come about. ... I am there to put the pieces together and hopefully win that coveted state title. Braden River has already put in place a successful program with the coaches before me. I am just hoping to continue the tradition that they started."
In her senior year at Lakewood Ranch, Dowling set school records that still stand with a 20-1 record with 214 strikeouts in 143 innings and a 0.39 ERA. Her only defeat was a 1-0 loss to Port Charlotte in the district tournament semifinal.