Lady Bulldogs will take it one day at a time and make the most of that day
With the 2021 season just weeks if not days away, the New Franklin Lady Bulldogs softball team is taking the approach that every game matters and no game is bigger than the other.
After closing out the 2020 fall season at 10-11 overall and 5-2 in the Central Activities Conference, which was good enough for third place, New Franklin head coach Ross Dowell said the Lady Bulldogs’ team returns a lot of experience and three seniors with a lot of field time.
“We will be very young in the circle with one sophomore and two freshmen,” Dowell said of the pitchers this season. “We had too many walks and hit too many batters last season. When we didn’t walk or make errors, we had very competitive games.”
The Lady Bulldogs definitely have the numbers this season with 20 suited out for the upcoming season, five of which are returning starters and eight as returning letterwinners.
Nonetheless, Dowell knows that the key to success this season for New Franklin is less errors and walks and staying healthy during the season. He said the Lady Bulldogs could be very solid defensively, however, the offense will need to be more consistent. “We really started to turn the corner at the end of last season,” Dowell said. “We have a really good mix of veterans and rookies. Our goals from season to season don’t change. We ant to play hard, try to win conference, and play for a district title.”
With that being said, Dowell said defense and depth from last year will be the strengths of the team this season. He said last year he had to move a lot of people around to figure out their best position, but this year the coaching staff has a good idea of where everyone should be playing.
Dowell said the big task this season will be consistency at the plate, which the team really struggled with mentally at the plate last fall.
“We need to focus on one at bat at a time and not let it effect the next one,” Dowell said. “Our pitchers need to trust their defense that we put behind them. We’ll be a pitch by committee team early in the year. We also lost a lot of close games last year, which became a mental problem on and off during the season. We need to play seven solid innings every game.”
The motto for the season is also simple: One day at a time and make most of that day.
Dowell is hoping with a young pitching staff, the Lady Bulldogs will grow with each game. With the graduation of all-conference and all-district pitcher Alexia Sprick, who finished 9-7 overall, Dowell will look to no other than sophomore Sophia Held and freshmen Brynn Belstle and Emersyn Eads.
Held finished 1-3 last fall with 11 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings for an ERA of 4.54. Abby Maupin could also see some playing time in the circle after pitching 8 2/3 innings in 2020. Dowell, however, said he would like to keep Maupin at shortstop or third.
“I think we’ll probably start out with the combination of Sophia and Brynn,” Dowell said. “We’re not going to rush Brynn right now so Sophia will probably start and Brynn will come in and pitch some in relief until she gets to full strength. Abby Maupin could throw some but I haven’t even told her to warm up yet. I like these three of Sophia, Brynn and Emersyn. I don't think it's hard to keep three in the flow. Like I said, those two will probably do most of our pitching and Eads will throw in JV games.”
The catcher position is also complicated. Although the position is still wide open, Dowell said right now he is looking at freshman Brooklyn Brown and juniors Mayna Matthews and Kelsi Fair. Dowell said Brown’s sisters caught for him in the past and were all-staters. “Brooklyn just needs to get a little stronger, but she is probably our most well-rounded catcher,” Dowell. “As for Jayna, we’ve taking her from the outfield and put her at catcher. We also played her a little bit at third, so she just needs to work on the defensive side. Kelsi has also improved this year and has finally put the time into the catcher’s position, but if I had to rank them it would be Brooklyn Jayna and Kelsi.”
On the right side of the infield at first and second base, Dowell said he will probably know more by September. But right now, he said whoever isn’t pitching between Sophia and Brynn will probably start at first base. Another possibility is senior Kristen Flick. Dowell said Flick did a tremendous job as a sophomore but didn’t play last year. “We have some really good options,” Dowell said. “The problem is trying to get the best combination in the fielding for us, so I would say it's one of those three right now.”
At second base, junior Carly Dorson returns for the Lady Bulldogs after hitting .327 last fall with 18 hits in 55 at bats with 14 singles, four doubles and nine RBIs. She also scored 20 runs.
Dowell said Dorson is the leader at second base with juniors Heaven-Lee Hundley and freshmen Kalynn Stephens and Katelynn Neal also competing at that position.
On the left side of the field, senior Abby Maupin returns at shortstop after earning all-conference, all-district and all-region in 2020. While hitting .469 for the season, Maupin also finished with 30 hits in 64 at bats with 16 singles, eight doubles, three triples, three home runs and 12 RBIs. She also scored 31 runs to lead the team.
Dowell said the team is trying to work out some kinks on the left side of the infield with Belstle taking some reps along with junior Addy Salmon and Stephens.
At third baseball, Dowell said it’s wide open. He said Salmon, Maupin and Matthews have taken most of the reps so far in practice. “It’s probably going to come down to who is hitting better and who is the best player at that position defensively,” Dowell said. “Last year we struggled to make outs on like one or two innings and we lost so many close games because we gave three or four in an inning and we can’t do that. With Abby and Carly returning and Dakota Clark back in center we should be pretty strong up the middle.”
Clark also makes the Lady Bulldogs that much stronger in the outfield while returning in center. A three-year starter for the Lady Bulldogs, Dowell said Clark is a player that can make most of the routine plays but just needs to not be hard on herself. Sophomore Natalie Wiseman also returns after playing some in the outfield last year, and then Flick will probably get the starting nod in left.
“Like I said we have a lot of questions to be answered,” Dowell said. “We’re also looking at Hundley, Matthews and Eads in right, and then we have a long list of girls that have been working out there such as Katie Hunter, Kinsley Washburn, Madison Painter and Kaylen Sprick. We've mentioned all these girls in the outfield and those realistically have a chance to start. I see us in a Boonville Tournament, probably playing three different lineups.”