By the number of close games that the New Franklin baseball team had in the spring, head coach Erich Gerding said the Bulldogs could have easily been 9-7 instead of 7-9.
Although the season was interesting to say the least, Gerding said a hit here or there and the season could have turned out much differently.
That’s what the Bulldogs are hoping this year with 17 players suited out for the fall season.
“Hopefully this experience of playing in close games turns out to be a positive for us,” Gerding said. “We need to get better offensively, but more importantly, we need to always be a better team that is passionate about the game of baseball and consistently doing things the right way. We need to commit to being great teammates and become more cohesive as a unit. Our older guys need to keep stepping up and leading-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.”
Gerding will be looking for both on the mound this season for the Bulldogs. The good news is that seven of the eight pitchers return from the spring season, led by senior Gavin Bishop-who was 5-0 with an ERA of 1.29 with 59 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings.
Of course Gerding has a crop of hopefuls on the mound in seniors Andy Neal, Jackson Dorson, Crayton Gallatin, sophomores Caleb Hull, Sam Marshall, Zac Vollrath-Roth and freshmen Keaton Eads, Clayton Wilmsmeyer and Owen Armentrout.
“The pitch count mandate has been challenging for us at times, but that’s ok,” Gerding said. “What’s 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. We are young and somewhat inexperienced as a group, but we need to start making strides.”
New Franklin hit .288 as a team in the spring and also averaged 7.6 runs in 16 games but also struck out 130 times and walked in 97 plate appearances.
Gerding knows those numbers will have to improve in order to compete in the Central Activities Conference.
“Our conference is a very good baseball conference year in and year out,” Gerding said. “As far as picking favorites or anything like that, Cairo was one game away from the Final Four last spring with their two studs back. Pilot Grove had a good postseason run and have their two studs back. Sturgeon is always tough, Glasgow has some good up and coming players, and even though they lost two very good players, Madison is always tough at their place.”
So what’s the key to the season? Gerding said the infield defense, especially up the middle will always been key and needs to be consistently good. He said the Bulldogs need leadership at these positions.
“If we can catch and throw behind whoever is pitching, we will be ok,” Gerding said. “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 to keep getting maturity, consistency and most of all, mental toughness and leadership, from these positions. We also need some bats to come alive this fall, 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 said most of the positions will also 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, he said.
As for the infield, including the catcher position, the Bulldogs return almost everybody back from last spring with senior Zac Held at catcher, senior Crayton Gallatin at first, senior Gavin Bishop at shortstop and sophomore Caleb Hull at third.
Bishop led the team in hitting in the spring with a .412 clip along with 20 runs scored, 17 singles, three doubles, one home run and 13 RBIs. Held hit .362 with 17 hits in 47 at bats while Gallatin batted .348 with 16 hits in 46 at bats while driving in 13 runs.
Gerding is also looking at seven different players at the second base position, which includes Neal, Hull, Wilmsmeyer and Eads, juniors Tysen Dowell and Jordan Peterman and sophomore Landon Belstle.
The Bulldogs will also have plenty of depth in the outfield returning from the spring. Junior Colten Collyott returns for his third season after hitting .346 with 18 hits in 52 at bats. Dowell also hit over .300 for the season with 15 hits in 48 at bats while senior Jackson Dorson batted .217 in only 23 at bats.
Other players who will see time in the outfield are junior Austin Durbin and sophomores Sam Marshall, Zac Vollrath-Roth and Bret Thompson.