Young and inexperienced. That about sums up the New Franklin Lady Bulldogs softball team this season.
With only 12 girls suited out for the 2018 season, head coach Ross Dowell said only five will return as starters for the upcoming season. But to make it worse, Dowell said nine of the 12 players are either freshmen or sophomores.
“Very young and very experienced,” Dowell said. “We had a pretty good summer but we have to have that type of improvement in August and September. The seniors have been great leaders, though. They have been very patient with the younger group. We’re going to have some rough innings but if we can compete and get better daily, that’s what I am asking them to do.”
After finishing 6-17 overall and 2-4 in the Central Activities Conference in 2017, Dowell said Pilot Grove should once again be at the top in the conference. After that, he said Cairo has a really good freshman pitcher and a junior catcher while Community R-6 is very impressive on the bases. He said Sturgeon and Madison should both be in the middle.
“I don’t really know where we fit in,” Dowell said. “There are going to be a lot of situations that come up so we’ll need to teach the game.”
If the Lady Bulldogs are going to contend or be a threat in the CAC this fall, Dowell said senior Lyndsey Brown will have to pitch like she did as a sophomore. While sitting out last year due to injuries, Dowell said right now Brown is No. 1 in the rotation with sophomores Alexia Sprick and Annie Benner and freshman Abby Maupin throwing some as well.
Sprick finished 3-5 with an ERA of 6.86 while pitching 50 innings and giving up 70 runs on 83 hits with 50 walks and 21 strikes. Benner, meanwhile, finished 1-4 with an ERA of 9.71 while pitching 31 innings and giving up 62 runs on 57 hits and 40 walks while striking out eight batters.
Dowell said the pitching staff will need to cut down on their walks this season for the team to have a chance. He said last year the pitching staff walked a total of 163 batters and also had 63 wild pitches and 25 hit batters.
Dowell will also have a decision to match at catcher between sophomores Kayce Hundley and Isabelle Matney and freshman Abby Maupin.
“Right now, I will probably put Kayce back there just because she has a little more experience having caught most of the JV innings last year. Abby, however, is very athletic and could also play third or outfield.”
As for the infield, junior Haley Washburn is the frontrunner at first base but is also in her first year of softball at New Franklin. Matney will also get a strong look at first, Dowell said.
At second, Dowell will look at anyone of three players in Sprick, sophomore Madelyn Chaney and freshman Kristen Flick.
On the left side of the infield, senior Lauren Evans will return at shortstop after earning all-conference and all-district honors in 2017. A three-year starter for the Lady Bulldogs, Evans hit .381 with 30 hits in 63 at bats with 21 singles, two doubles, one triple and 15 RBIs.
As for third base, Dowell will look to either Brown, Hundley, Matney or Maupin on the corner.
“This summer the infield held their own I thought,” Dowell said. “They are smart and I think this will be a group that will be strong by the end of the year.”
Of course the outfield will be just the opposite. Depending on whether senior Shelby Breshears comes back from a knee injury, Dowell said the outfield will be young and inexperienced.
“They will have to learn what’s going on,” Dowell said.
If Breshears does return to the outfield, she will probably get the starting nod in center after hitting .397 last year with 27 hits in 68 at bats with 22 singles, three doubles, a team-leading two triples and six RBIs. She also led the team in stolen bases with 11.
But as of right now, Dowell said Sprick could see playing time in center with Washburn possibly in right and either Flick, Benner or Matney in left.

New Franklin
Aug. 21-Jamboree, 5:00
Aug. 25-Lady Pirate Classic, TBA
Aug. 30-SLATER, 5:00
Aug. 31-MADISON, 5:00
Sept. 4-CAIRO, 5:00
Sept. 6-at Boonville, 5:00
Sept. 8-4th annual New Franklin Tournament, TBA.
Sept. 11-at Fayette, 5:00
Sept. 13-HIGBEE, 5:00
Sept. 17-at Community R-6, 5:00
Sept. 18-GLASGOW, 5:00
Sept. 20-at Sturgeon, 5:00
Sept. 26-at Harrisburg, 5:00
Sept. 27-PILOT GROVE, 5:00
Sept. 29-LaPlata Tourn., TBA
Oct. 1-Hallsville, TBA
Oct. 2-JAMESTOWN, 5:00
Oct. 8-at LaPlata, 5:00
Note: *-Home games in caps.