FAIRFIELD — Ever since her freshman year, Julia Lawrence had a plan: She would graduate from Lawrence High School a year early, then move on to college and eventually medical school.
“I’m definitely a planned-out person,” Lawrence said, laughing. “If I don’t have a plan, I don’t know what’s going on.”
Part of her plan was to play high school softball. But after dropping the sport as a freshman, Lawrence didn’t come back until this season — her last at the school. She’s the only varsity pitcher as the Bulldogs fight for a playoff spot in the season’s final week.
“I’ve known her as a competitor since junior high,” Lawrence softball coach Joey Marcoux said. “I knew that she had that makeup, so I regretted the fact that she wasn’t with us the last two years all along.”
Lawrence, who was a standout center forward in field hockey, actually went through pitchers and catchers week as a freshman. But between a sore shoulder and trying to squeeze four years of school into three, she decided to focus on academics. That was that, until last year.
“We were playing summer ball,” Marcoux said. “We showed up in the dugout one day, and Julia was here.”
Lawrence pitched for the team all summer, but in the winter, Marcoux began hearing rumors that Lawrence wasn’t going to play. Lawrence says there was some truth to those rumors — that, in her final months before college, she needed to make sure she kept her grades up.
Then one day, Marcoux went to Olympia Sports in Waterville. Lawrence was working there but Marcoux didn’t know that — he just needed a pair of sneakers.
“She called me coach, and I said, âAm I your coach?'” Marcoux remembered. “She started looking at me, and I said, âI heard you’re not playing. Am I going to be your coach or not?’ So we talked for a couple minutes in Olympia Sports, and she made the decision right then that she was going to give it a try. She’s been nothing but wonderful since.”
As the only pitcher on the varsity roster, Lawrence has to be able to handle that mentally as well as physically. She’s got the durability part down — she threw 202 pitches in a game against Brewer — and Marcoux, who coached her in junior high basketball, has always been impressed with her mental game.
“Julia’s strength to me is that she doesn’t let the little things bother her,” Marcoux said. “She knows that she is not perfect. She knows that she’s going to give me everything that she’s got, every single day that she walks on the mound. She might walk a kid, but she rolls with the punches, and comes right back out and tries to get the next kid.”
Lawrence developed shin splints, and missed part of the field hockey season this fall. There’s less running as a softball pitcher, which means less stress on her legs. Lawrence is going to study medical biology at the University of New England, and while she originally thought she’d play field hockey there, she is now looking to try out for the softball team — partly because of her legs, and partly because she just enjoys softball.
“I feel like there’s more of a team to back you up (in softball),” she said. “It’s more of a team game. Teamwork makes the dream work. If you don’t have your team behind you, there’s no chance you’re going to win.”
At the same time, Lawrence enjoys how much impact the pitcher can have on the outcome of the game.
“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure on me, but I like playing under stress,” Lawrence said. “Just like I never studied once for the SATs, but I did really good on them. The pressure thing is a big thing for me. I like being on the edge of everything, and knowing, âIf it’s not this last strikeout, then we’re not going to win the game. Or if it is, I’m a hero for the game.'”
The Bulldogs have a designated player bat for Lawrence, but that’s more of a precaution that a comment on her hitting ability. Lawrence said she took batting practice earlier this week and surprised herself with her power.
“She’s a very good hitter,” Marcoux said. “We just know that, if perchance, she got hurt running the bases, we’re done. We’re getting down to the last crunch. She’ll get her chance to hit a couple of times this week, and she’ll show some people that she really could have hit all year long. She’s been more than understanding. But she goes behind my back to Coach (Jim) Giroux and says, âWhen am I going to get a chance to hit?'”
The Bulldogs were 3-8 heading into Wednesday afternoon’s game at Brewer. There’s a chance they won’t make the playoffs. But Lawrence’s biggest impact may be felt over the next few years. The Bulldogs have two other pitchers in the program — both are freshmen. Marcoux believes that, when possible, it’s better for a freshman pitcher to spend at least a year on junior varsity, rather than facing Bangor, Skowhegan, Messalonskee, and Cony in succession a few games into their varsity career.
“We’ve got two freshmen coming in, and we were thinking we were going to have to have one stay on JVs, and one come with us on varsity, and maybe even switch them every other game,” Marcoux said. “As it worked out, we were able to leave them on JV, let them pitch at that lower-stress , lower-intensity level, and get a good year of experience.”
In the end, the ultimate planner took a path she hadn’t considered a few years ago. Somehow, it all worked out.
“I would have regretted it if I didn’t,” Lawrence said. “Coach had been eager to get me back on the team, and I was eager to get back on the team. My best friend Emily (McLean), she had told me that she was going to hate me and never talk to me again if I didn’t play. And she was serious!
“I figured, why not give it a try? I’ve always loved being an athlete. That’s how I am. If I’m not playing a sport, I feel like I’m just going home, doing homework, going to bed. It’s just not as fun. It’s my senior year — well, my junior/senior year. Might as well make the best of it while I can.”