It’s no secret that the New Franklin Bulldogs baseball team was in a major rebuilding mode last year.
After losing a handful of players from the previous year, head coach Erich Gerding went into the 2017 season expecting a few bumps in the road.
Those bumps continued in the fall with another young squad as the Bulldogs finished 1-11.
This spring, Gerding will look to 15 players to lead the Bulldogs back to the postseason.
“We had a fall full of a lot of growing pains and adversity,” Gerding said. “Hopefully, it makes us stronger, which I’m sure it will. Our motto this spring is: Believe. Trust. Work. Improve. Grow. Everyone must be committed to this team and accomplishing team goals, otherwise, we need to do something else with our time. We must strive to consistently play heads up baseball one pitch at a time day in and day out. It’s time to turn potential into execution and execution into wins. This group is capable of improvement if they fully commit everyday to the mission they wish to accomplish, both individually and together, as one cohesive unit.”
Although the Bulldogs still figure to go through some bumps in the road in 2018 with just two seniors, Gerding said it’s time to start making strides.
While losing Kale Harris and Hunter Rohlfing, both seniors last year, who were second team all-district, New Franklin also lost seniors Austin Jones and Caleb Phillips to graduation last spring. However the good news is that sophomore Gavin Bishop returns as a pitcher/infielder after receiving all-district honorable mention as a freshman and CAC All-Conference team this past fall as a sophomore.
“We need to get better offensively, but more importantly, we need to be a better team that is passionate about the game of baseball and doing things the right way,” Gerding said. “We need to commit. Our older guys need to step up and lead, both by example and verbally, they have to walk the walk and talk the talk. Our younger guys need to step up and lead. The strength of the team is the player and strength of the player is the team.”
Despite the youth and inexperience on the team this season, Gerding said he wants the players to play like underdogs because that’s really what this year’s team dictates. He said the goal right now is to be 1-0 after the first game.
“After that, our focus will shift to the next opponent and so on,” Gerding said. “If we want to be successful, we must live in the moment and focus intensely on the process, not dwelling on the past or thinking about the future. We must play one pitch at a time like each one might be our last. Overall, I like what I think this team can be, but only if we all individually work our best to make this a good team.”
Gerding added that most of the positions this spring will depend on who is pitching and/or hitting well at the moment. He said he would like to use kids at all kinds of different spots in different situations. “Almost everyone is, or at least should be, a utility player,” Gerding said.
Right now, the Bulldogs have seven different pitchers who could throw at times this season.
Along with sophomore Gavin Bishop, Gerding will also look at junior Dustin Mehrhoff, sophomores Andy Neal, Jackson Dorson, Crayton Gallatin and Avery Lauer and freshman Tysen Dowell.
Bishop led the team in innings pitched last fall at 24, followed by Neal with 11, Crayton 10 1/3 and Dorson 7 1/3 innings.
Gerding said the pitch count mandate has been challenging for the Bulldogs at times, but that’s ok.
“I guess more of a challenge for us has been our inability to be consistent and then play good defense,” Gerding said. “Offensively, we need to get a lot better. The bottom half of our order, as always, will play a critical role in our team’s success, so they need to get much better.”
Of course with every good pitcher comes a good catcher, which again, the Bulldogs have plenty of this season in Mehrhoff, Dorson, Dowell and sophomore Zac Held.
Gerding will also mix and match on the infield, with Gallatin, Mehrhoff, Dorson, junior Koy Harris and freshman Ethan Wells. Meanwhile, at second base, Gerding said Neal, Dowell, Dorson and sophomore Avery Lauer could all see playing time at that position.
On the left side of the infield, Bishop will get the starting nod at shortstop when he is not pitching. Neal, Dowell and freshman Colten Collyott could also see playing time at short.
Gerding may have to lean on Bishop again for his hitting this spring. After all, Bishop did lead the Bulldogs in almost every offensive category in the spring while hitting .394 with 13 hits (10 singles and three doubles) along with runs scored with eight and RBIs with five.
Rounding out the left side of the infield at third base are Mehrhoff, Lauer and Held.
Gerding said the infield defense, especially up the middle, will be a key as always, and needs to be more consistent.
“We need leadership at these positions,” Gerding said. “If we can catch and throw behind whoever is pitching, we will be ok. Our ability to play a quality shortstop and have a rock behind the plate will be key factors in our success as well. We need more maturity, consistency and most of all, more toughness, from these positions. We also need some bats to come alive this spring, especially from some of our guys further down in the lineup to get the guys at the top in and/or get on base for the guys at the top.”
Gerding will also have his pick in the outfield this spring. He said right now the players that will see playing time in the outfield are seniors Lucas Storjohann and Tyler Hackman, junior Koy Harris, sophomores Zac Held, Jackson Dorson and Sam Ridgeway and freshmen Ethan Wells, Austin Durbin and Christian Clark.