In order for the New Franklin Bulldogs baseball team to be successful this season, head coach Erich Gerding knows his team will have to improve on its pitching from the spring.
While finishing 5-11 overall in the spring, Gerding said pitching let the team down a lot.
“We just had trouble throwing strikes and it all starts there,” Gerding said. “If that gets better than our defense is better. I think our offense is going to be better after that, so pitching and finding an offensive identity I think with this young group will be the key.”
With 18 players suited out for the upcoming season, the Bulldogs will return four starters and nine letterwinners under Gerding.
Depending on how much the pitchers improve from the spring to the fall, Gerding said right now in the CAC the Cairo Bearcats will be pretty good.
“Sturgeon is always good, and Madison is going to give you a tough game,” Gerding said. “I think up and down our conference is going to be pretty good again. As far as having some of the big names that we have had in the past, maybe not yet, I think the conference as a whole is really young right now. Not just us but I think a lot of teams are young.
“I think we are going to fit in wherever our play dictates we fit in. Being so young, we have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to get done before I have a general idea of where we are going to be just because last year our pitching was so inconsistent. We are just looking for more consistency there. I think if we get that we are going to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Even though eight of the 18 players are either freshmen or sophomores, Gerding said  he likes the energy and enthusiasm from the team. He said he thinks the youth is a strength right now because they don’t know any better and they come out and play hard and have fun, which is good.
“I have very zero attitude problems, very few problems with effort and things like that right now, which is fantastic,” Gerding said. “These guys are eager and ready to go out and prove themselves so I really like that about our team.”
While the Bulldogs have hit the ground running so far in practice, Gerding remains optimistic about the season just because of the inexperience. He said there will be some situations that show up in a game where it’s obvious that these guys haven’t seen that before of they don’t know how to counter it.
“I told them that we can’t simulate everything in three weeks,” Gerding said. “There are going to be some things where people watching the game are going to scratch their heads a little bit, but that’s part of being young. It’s better to do that when you are young than when you are older. There are going to be some growing pains  I suspect but I also suspect there are going to be very, very good moments because this group is pretty cohesive and they get along really, really well and they want to do well.”
Gerding also wants to make it easy for the Bulldogs this season. Although he doesn’t get upset with the wins or losses, he just wants the team to give themselves a chance to win every game.
“I am more concerned with how we play,” Gerding said. “I can be more disappointed with a win if we play like garbage than a loss if we play really, really well. Sometimes you just get beat. I am more concerned with how we play more than the end result because if we play how we are supposed to and how we can than the result will take care of itself.”
Gerding is also putting a lot on the shoulder of sophomore pitcher Gavin Bishop this season. Although Bishop finished 0-2 in the spring, he logged more innings than any player on the team while throwing 25 innings.
Gerding said Bishop is probably the No. 1 pitcher but that could change.
“Gavin shouldered a pretty big load for us as a freshman and that will probably continue this fall and next spring,” Gerding said.
Andy Neal, another talented sophomore, also saw some time on the mound for the Bulldogs in the spring. While finishing 0-1 on the season, Neal pitched a total of 10-plus innings and gave up 13 hits for an ERA of 6.77.
Gerding said Neal got better late in the season in the spring because he threw strikes.
Other players who could see playing time on the mound this fall for the Bulldogs are senior Tyler Hackman, juniors Dustin Mehrhoff and Koy Harris and sophomores Crayton Gallatin and Jackson Dorson.
“It’s going to be a very younhg pitching staff again,” Gerding said. “If we can throw strikes we are going to be alright. Like I said there are going to be some bumps in the road. It’s going to happen but like I said this is a smart group. I think last year counting Kale (Harris) there were four academic all-staters on the team, so like I said they want to be good and they want to learn and get better.”
As for the infield, Gerding said sophomore Zac Held will start at catcher if Bishop is on the mound because he has the most experience. However, Gerding said Gallatin can catch a little bit along with Dorson and freshman Tysen Dowell.
Gallatin will also play first with either Neal or Dorson at second base. Meanwhile, on the left side of the infield, Gerding said freshman Colten Collyott will play shortstop when Bishop is pitching while freshman Avery Lauer could see playing time at either third or second.
“Like I said I have two weeks to figure it out,” Gerding said of the infield. “Tysen Dowell would be another candidate at second and third base, too. If we can consistently throw strikes our defense is going to be ok, but if we put everybody to sleep by letting everybody walk around the bases than it’s not going to be very good.”
The Bulldogs will also need to improve on their .257 average as a team this fall in order to have any success.
Gerding said a major goal of the team this season is to avoid the easy out.
“That is something I talked about with them just on Friday,” Gerding said. “Being a tough out and finding a way to make contact because we are so young. We are not going to have a lot of power so we have to find a way to get on base and use our legs.”
In the outfield, Gerding will look to Dorson in center, seniors Tyler Hackman or Lucas Storjohann in left and junior Dustin Mehrhoff in right.
Gerding said Dorson will get the start in center because he has the most experience in the outfield. “Jackson is a natural leader,” Gerding said. “He is smart and he knows what it takes to play that position because he has been paying attention. Lucas, meanwhile, has the most experience of everybody in the outfield, especially in left. Tyler is another guy who has had a little bit of experience in left. As for right, Dustin has a pretty good arm, good athleticism and he can go get the ball. I like those kind of guys in right field. I like the outfield as a whole. They can get it, make the routine plays and hit a little bit for us. Zac Held can also play the outfield. He played there all last year because Hunter (Rohlfing) caught. Colten Collyott can probably play out along with Tysen Dowell. Those are the guys we are kind of looking to being flexible in and out of all kinds of positions.”
New Franklin
Baseball Schedule
8-19-Atlanta Tournament, TBA
8-22-at New Bloomfield, 5 p.m.
8-25-at Madison, 5 p.m.
8-29-CAIRO, 5 p.m.
8-31-at Sturgeon, 5 p.m.
9-1-RUSSELLVILLE, 5 p.m.
9-5-at Bunceton, 5 p.m.
9-7-at Higbee, 5 p.m.
9-8-at Jamestown, 5 p.m.
9-12-at Glasgow, 5 p.m.
9-14-STURGEON, 5 p.m.
9-18-NEW BLOOMFIELD, 5 p.m.
9-21-at Pilot Grove, 5 p.m.
Note: Home games in caps.