The New Franklin Lady Bulldogs softball team will begin its quest for the state title today in the semifinal round against the Maysville Wolverines at the Killian Complex in Springfield starting at 2 p.m.
The Lady Bulldogs, 22-7 on the season, advanced to the Final Four after beating St. Elizabeth last weekend in St. Elizabeth by a score of 9-7. As for Maysville, 17-8 on the season, they defeated Jefferson in the quarterfinals 7-0.
The winner will advance to the championship game on Saturday, Oct. 26th starting at 4 p.m
New Franklin Lady Bulldogs softball coach Ross Dowell talked about the 2013 season and the team’s quest to Springfield.
Q: Looking back at the start of the season, did you feel like the team had a chance to reach Springfield?
A: I saw some development in the summer that I really liked and the year before we kind of limped into the playoffs. With those six starters returning and the field time we had I thought we would be ok. To be honest I really didn’t know we would be this year, but I knew there was enough talent that if we worked on some of our weaknesses over the summer and so far that has paid off.
Q: New Franklin has always played a tough schedule, do you feel like that helped you in the postseason?
A: I do. The last six games we saw some of the better pitchers in the state. The Hickman pitcher led them to the quarterfinals. We saw the Boonville pitcher and the Hallsville pitcher was a pretty good pitcher. That is the reason for that. Some years with a young team it can backfire and go the opposite way because you obviously don’t want to go into the playoffs not hitting well and if you see some of those pitchers you sometimes do that. That is the main purpose of it. We have been preaching all year that the athletes we are seeing right now are the same as what we saw at Hickman. It’s like comparing oranges and apples but we just play that bigger schedule to prepare us.
Q: New Franklin is pretty much senior dominated this year, has that had a lot to do with the success of the team?
A: I think so. We finally figured out leadership, we finally figured out that it doesn’t have to be verbal, it can be by example and I think we have a bunch of those. We have people who work hard. Abi Schapira fitness-wise she pushes us and keeps us in shape and she is kind of our funny plug. Aly (Hundley) has been leading off and under control at the plate and kind of gives us confidence. When Chickie pitches well our defense kind of settles in. I can go through each and everyone of them. They do some aspect for us. It is never going to hurt to have veteran seniors that know what they are doing.
Q: When did you see this team  starting to turn the corner?
A: We struggled about three weeks ago, the stretch there where we played Rock Bridge, Jamestown and Pilot Grove. We were just kind of going through the motions and after the Hickman game I just felt like our focus wasn’t there. We did a little different practice than we had and I kind of got their attention and from then on my point to them is if we play hard it doesn’t really matter what happens. We are going to make mistakes along as we minimize them. I just thought the Hickman game we just kind of rolled into the game and didn’t play hard. The Jamestown game we put together a great seven innings but I thought 1-4 we were just kind of sleepwalking and that is party of playing 19 games in 28-29 days. But that practice I thought was the turning point, the Friday after the Hickman game. We just got after it. I played a few mind games just to get their attention and then once I talked to them about why I did what I did I think the light bulb came on. We made a few mistakes and got out-hit but we played Boonville pretty solid in the last game of the year and that kind of carried our confidence into the district. Playing back-to-back-to-back nights its pretty tough and you have to be mentally ready for that and I thought we were. We had a great district and it has kind of blossomed from there.
Q: If you had to describe this team how would you describe it?
A: I don’t know if one word would do it. Just maturity, that’s one thing. I just think last year we pouted about things we couldn’t control and the other thing that Aly said it best in an interview with you was just the team chemistry. This bunch gets along better than probably any team I have ever had 1-20. Everybody has their role on the team but they just kind of go about their business. The chemistry is really well and that’s hard for 20 teenage girls I can tell you that.
Q: New Franklin has had a lot of come from behind wins this season. Why is that?
A: I think a lot of that is the maturity thing, again. My point to them is why don’t we play every inning like our backs are against the wall. I think we are starting to get to that. I thought that we saw that in the St. Elizabeth game. You get down 3-0 and then you score five in the second, you are locked in a little bit. And then they punched us right back with three more. We stayed right there with them. We could have very easily rolled over. That part is coming around and you don’t know what you are going to get with a week off here and the emotion of the week, but we are trying to work on that.
Q: What about this team in the postseason so far?
A: It’s just been a ride. We are trying to right now focus on how quick this is all happened. We played the district tournament Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then we went into that weekend and practiced on Monday for Sturgeon and Tuesday and then we played Sturgeon and then we tried to get information on St. Elizabeth. We then played them Saturday and now we are trying to get motels and getting stuff ready for Springfield. Yesterday at practice we talked about taking a deep breath and try to think about five great things that happened. To me once we got past districts that was our main goal and we set a day by day goal. We got the sectional win and we got the quarterfinal win. It’s been a crazy ride but it’s been something I told them we talked about what they are promised through this weekend. I promised them they are going to bring home a big state trophy that will be in the trophy case for the rest of their life. We get a medal. We will get a banner to put on the gym wall and that is all I can promise them. The rest they have to come and show what they are made of and if that is good enough great and if it’s not, you know I really feel like the hard work is over. Getting here is the hard work. This is my eighth quarterfinal and I have only made it out twice as a head coach so I can tell you it doesn’t just happen. I am very proud of them. I hope they can take a deep breath here in a few days and realize what they have done. I don’t think they have.
Q: You talked about goals. Your first goal was to win 20 games and then your second goal was to win conference and then your third goal was to win districts. It seems like these steps have kind of worked out for the team this year?
A: Our first goal was to win more games. Last year we won 15 games so when we got to 16 this season we completed that goal. Every time we have completed a goal I make sure they realize it. Yesterday we talked about it and I didn’t realize but the 1989 team that won a state title, that was the most wins in school history and we have tied that now, and that wasn’t even a goal. We’ve got 22 wins and that ties the ‘89 team with the most wins here at school. We are going to set a few team records this years. Doubles is getting close. Individual records for a career Aly Hundley is going to be up there in at-bats and different things like that. Those are the goal we don’t set. I thought we simplified them this year. Everybody always writes a goal that we want to be state champions but realistically there is one out of 126 schools that can do that. I told the girls let’s worry about what we are doing. Are we fundamentally fielding, are we covering bunts, are we hitting our cutoffs. Those little things that beat great teams. That is the stuff we concentrate on. A veteran team with basic fundamentals and we are are.
Q: What do you know about Maysville?
A: I don’t have a lot but it comes down to this, the northwest corner up there is very proud of their stuff. Most of the games that they have played are in their conference. I know their top six are very good hitters and the pitcher is going to move it. She is not overpowering and that is one of my main concerns. They have a catcher that is a pretty good player that hasn’t played since the district finals with a high ankle sprain so I don’t know if she is going to play, but I think she kind of makes their team go. She is a team leader but they have obviously won two without her in some pretty big games. I did get a thing on them yesterday that last year’s team was better so I think they were kind of driven like us. Their losses all come from bigger schools and I could say that about our team. I would say they are very similar to us and St. Elizabeth and what we have seen in the playoffs. We have to hit our spots pitching, we have to defend and we have to put the ball in play. If we do those things, we will be fine.
Q: Does the game change much in the Final Four, or do you play just like you have all season?
A: We want to play like we have the last two weeks. In the playoffs we played about as good as we can. The Sturgeon game I don’t know if there is much more we could have done in that game to make us better. Our focus and our pitching was good. Our timely hitting I mean we only had six hits but it was timely. We bunted well and did some fundamental things right. My first thing is I want to get a run and I want to get the first out of the first inning and then we will go from there. The thing about the St. Elizabeth game is that it took us a while to get that run and it took us a long time to get that first out. My No. 1 thing is that I want them, no matter what they do, to enjoy this ride. I think you can get caught up in the right now of what happens down there and they have to realize these other three teams are as good or maybe better than us so we are going to have to play the best we can and enjoy that.