New Franklin baseball coach Erich Gerding is a firm believer that any growing pains or adversity his team faced in the fall will only help this spring.
With 16 players suited out for the 2019 season, Gerding said the goal this spring is to be a team, be the most excited to play, and be the best at doing your jobs. He said the Bulldogs also want to continue to develop and strengthen the defensive flexibility.
“We had a fall full of some growing pains and adversity,” Gerding said. “Hopefully it makes us stronger, which I’m sure it will.”
The Bulldogs definitely have plenty to build on for the 2019 season. Despite finishing 4-9 in the fall and 7-11 in the spring, New Franklin lost just one starter to graduation in 2018 and return all-district performers Gavin Bishop and Colten Collyott. Bishop and junior Zac Held were also voted on the Central Activities Conference team this past fall.
New Franklin will open the 2019 season on Monday, March 19 at Fayette starting at 5 p.m.
Gerding said the team’s 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 said first and foremost, the Bulldogs need to get better offensively. New Franklin finished the fall season with a .297 average with 77 runs scored for 5.92 rpg (runs per game). However last spring, the Bulldogs hit just .238 as a team with 74 runs scored in 18 games for an average of 4.11 rpg.
“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 the strength of the player is the team.  
“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.”
Gerding also knows that for the Bulldogs to be successful this spring, it all starts just 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.
Of course if there is one thing that New Franklin has plenty of this season it’s pitching. Gerding said right now he has 10 players that can pitch. Nine of those  saw action in the fall.
“Most of the positions depend on who is pitching and or hitting well at the moment,” Gerding said. “I 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 knows that pitching will also have to improve twofold this spring. With a team ERA of 6.19 in the fall, the pitching staff also surrendered 92 hits in 78 innings with 69 walks.
The good news is that New Franklin’s top pitcher returns with two years under his belt in junior Gavin Bishop. Although Bishop finished just 1-5 in the fall, he had 54 strikeouts in 29.33 innings for an ERA of 4.29.
Andy Neal also returns after finishing 2-1 with an ERA of 3.73 with 16 strikeouts in 15 innings. After that, Gerding will look to seniors Koy Harris and Dustin Mehrhoff, juniors Jackson Dorson and Crayton Gallatin, sophomore Tysen Dowell and freshmen Caleb Hull, Sam Marshall and Zac Vollrath-Roth.
“We are young and somewhat inexperienced as a group, but we need to start making strikes,” Gerding said of the pitchers. “The pitch count mandate has been challenging for us at times, but that’s ok. More challenging has been our inability to be consistent and then play good defense. 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.”
Gerding will also use a platoon system on the infield.
At catcher, Held returns after hitting .343 in the fall with 12 hits in 35 at bats with seven runs batted in.
As for the right side of the infield, Gallatin will get a strong look at first base after hitting .257 with 9 hits in 35 at bats in the fall. Neal also returns after hitting .286 in the fall and will look to play at second base along with sophomores Jordan Peterman and Tysen Dowell and freshman Caleb Hull and Landon Belstle. Meanwhile, on the left side of the infield, Bishop will share the shortstop position along with Collyott, Neal, Dowell and Hull. Bishop led the team in hitting last fall with a .436 clip with 17 hits in 39 at-bats with 15 singles, one double, one home run and 11 runs batted in.
As for the third base position, Mehrhoff returns after hitting .286 with 10 hits in 35 at bats with a team-leading five doubles and 15 RBIs.
Gerding said the infield defense, especially up the middle, will be a key for the team 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 look to a number of players in the outfield this season with Collyott leading that group in center field after hitting .405 in the fall with 17 hits in 42 at bats.
Other players vying for the final two spots in the outfield are Harris, Dorson, Dowell, Hull, sophomore Austin Durbin and freshmen Sam Marshall, Zac Vollrath-Roth and Bret Thompson.