The New Franklin Lady Bulldogs softball team will be the first to tell you that the time is now to do something in the postseason.
While finishing third last year behind Sturgeon and Cairo in the Central Activities Conference, head coach Ross Dowell said this has to be the year if they are going to do something. With 20 players suited out for the 2013 season, six of which are returning starters and 12 returning letterwinners, the Lady Bulldogs may very well have to put all of their eggs in the basket if they are going to knock off the likes of Cairo, Sturgeon and Glasgow just to name a few in the CAC.
While finishing 15-11 overall and 4-2 in the CAC last year, Dowell said his team should be in the upper half of the conference.
“We will have to be prepared mentally when we step off the bus because there will be no easy wins,” Dowell said. “Pitching-wise Glasgow and Cairo have the best pitching, and I never count out Sturgeon. Keytesville also has a good pitcher. It’s going to be a fight for six games, so you can’t slip up.”
With over half of the starters back from last year, Dowell said a strength of the team this year is that they have a few girls who have started 2-3 years. He said the Lady Bulldogs should also put a solid team on the field defensively.
But even then with so many back for the 2013 season, Dowell said the biggest weakness may lie in the hitting. “We just weren’t consistent last year and mentally tough,” Dowell said. “If the first girl struck out, we might as well packed up and got on the bus. We just want to be more consistent every game. We won 15 games last year and there were 4-5 that I felt got away from us, so we would like to push 18-20 wins this season.”
If the Lady Bulldogs are going to have any success this season, it may fall on the shoulders of senior pitcher Kalani Pihana. A three-year starter at New Franklin, Pihana returns after earning all-conference and all-district honors in 2012. While pitching 101 1/3 innings last fall, Pihana posted a record of 12-6 overall with an ERA of 4.50. She also struck out 59 batters and gave up 91 runs, 65 earned, on 120 hits and 36 walks.
Dowell said this is the first year that Pihana has been healthy. “I would like to see her more confident in her pitches,” Dowell said. “When she keeps the ball down I would like to see her throw more ground balls.”
Dowell will also look to senior Megan Phillips and junior Claire Monnig to do some pitching this season along with freshmen Cassie Armentrout and Madison Maupin. “Megan has improved a lot this year,” Dowell said. “She is always around the plate and throws strikes. As for Claire, she threw a lot of relief innings last year and was a good change of pace. I think we will have some depth this season,” Dowell said. “For the first time I am not afraid to play 12-13 girls.”
Junior catcher Aislinn Himmelberg will also give the Lady Bulldogs a great 1-2 punch behind the plate. While returning from last year, Himmelberg also brings back a solid bat after hitting .328 with 22 hits in 67 at-bats with 15 singles, four doubles, one triple, two home runs and 18 RBIs.
Dowell said Himmelberg did a decent job last year. “Aislinn has good arm strength and calls a decent game,” Dowell said. “We will also take a look at Abby Prewitt and Cassie Snider at the catcher position this season.”
The Lady Bulldogs will also have several players returning on the infield this fall. Of course who better to lead the group than senior shortstop Aly Hundley, who returns for her fourth season. While earning all-conference and all-district honors last year, Hundley also returns after hitting .357 with 25 hits in 70 at-bats with 18 singles, four doubles, three triples and 16 RBIs.
Dowell said Hundley is the leader on the infield. “Aly has a lot of field time and understands the game,” Dowell said. “Aly is an excellent fielder but we need her hitting to come around.”
Phillips also returns at third base for the Lady Bulldogs. Although Phillips will split time on the mound with Pihana, Dowell said the third base position will come down to who does all three phases of the game consistently.
“Right now it’s a toss up between Megan and junior Valerie Schlotzhauer,” Dowell said.
As for the right side of the infield, Dowell will look to a trio of players to step in at first base. Although it depends on who pitches, Dowell said Claire Monnig, Derian Dodson and Abby Prewitt are utility-type players.
Of course if Dowell goes solely by the bat, Prewitt would be the frontrunner after hitting .369 last fall with 24 hits in 65 at-bats with 15 singles, six doubles, three home runs and 28 RBIs. Monnig would be next in line after hitting .267 with eight hits in 30 at-bats with six singles, two doubles and 21 RBIs. As for Dodson, she batted .158 with three hits in 19 at-bats with three singles and two RBIs.
“Right now Claire is the frontrunner,” Dowell said.
As for the second base position, Dowell said senior Abi Schapira will return for her third year at that spot.
“Abi is a solid player at second,” Dowell said. “Not only has she gotten stronger as a fielder, she has also gotten better overall.”
Dowell is also counting on Armentrout and freshman Jasmine Himmelberg to play some this season at second base.
“There is a lot of experience on the infield this season,” Dowell said. “We should be battle tested, so hopefully we will do the little things well.”
As for the outfield, senior Sara Montgomery will return for her third year at the center field position for the Lady Bulldogs. While earning all-conference, all-district and all-region last year for New Franklin, Montgomery also returns as the team’s leading hitter after batting .420 with 29 hits in 69 at-bats with 27 singles, two doubles and eight RBIs. She also led the team in stolen bases with 14 and finished the season with an on-base percentage of .540 and a slugging percentage of .449.
Dowell said Montgomery had a great year last year hitting. “Sara reads the ball well and catches it,” Dowell said.
As for the two remaining positions in the outfield, Prewitt will move from right to left. While batting over .350 last fall, Dowell said not only was Prewitt one of the better hitters she also plays all out every play.
Senior Rox’e Hendrix will also get a strong look in left, according to Dowell.
Meanwhile, in right, Dowell will look to three players to fill the position. Although Dowell said Derian Dodson will be the starter, Claire Monnig and Megan Phillips could also see some playing time at that position.
“All three are great athletes,” Dowell said. “We are just trying to work on being more consistent hitting. Sophomore Mackenzie Fenton has also improved tremendously and could see some playing time in the outfield. I think the outfield as a whole will be able to track down most fly balls this year.”
Aug. 29 at Slater 5:00
Aug. 30 at Madison 5:00
Aug. 31 Lady Pirate
Sept. 3 CAIRO 5:00
Sept. 4 at Keytesville 5:00
Sept. 5 WESTRAN 5:00
Sept. 6 ATLANTA 5:00
Sept. 9 at Salisbury 5:00
Sept. 10 BRUNSWICK 5:00
Sept. 11 FAYETTE 4:00
Sept. 14 N. Callaway
Sept. 17 at Glasgow 5:00
Sept. 19 STURGEON 5:00
Sept. 23 at Rock Bridge5:00
Sept. 25 at Harrisburg 5:00
Sept. 27 at Pilot Grove 5:00
Sept. 30 Hallsville at CMU 5:00
Oct. 1 JAMESTOWN5:00
Oct. 3 HICKMAN 5:00
Oct. 8 BOONVILLE 4:30
Oct. 9-12 Districts TBA
Oct. 16 Sectional TBA
Oct. 19 Quarterfinals TBA
Oct. 24-26 State Tourn. TBA
Note: Home games in caps.