BY MIKE URSERY
Replacing six players in Class 1 softball can be a not so easy task, but it will be expected of New Franklin Lady Bulldogs head coach Ross Dowell in 2018.
New Franklin bid farewell to five seniors at the conclusion of the 2017 high school softball season. That sixth player, senior Shelby Breshears, is still recovering from knee surgery. Breshears, a three-year starter, tore the ACL in her right knee last December during the 2017-18 high school basketball season.
When the 2018 season begins, Dowell will have 11 players on his roster, excluding Breshears. He will have two seniors, one junior, five sophomores and three freshmen.
This is the second straight year the Lady Bulldogs will see this much turnover going into a new season. The team from two years ago that won a district title had five seniors that departed the following season.
Dowell said this season is different because he has a young team. In 2017, his lineup consisted mostly of upperclassmen.
Three of the five seniors from last season who have departed were the starting first baseman (Kacie White), the starting third baseman (Madison Matney) and the starting catcher (Grace Hundley). All three players were named All-Conference and All-District.
“Those three were four-year starters, and All-District and All-Region-type players,” Dowell said. “I don’t know if we do replace them this year, but we’re going to throw someone out there who can do it.”
Exactly how Dowell will fill the open spaces in his lineup has not yet been decided, he said. The Lady Bulldogs have three healthy players returning who played in more than 10 games last season.
One of those is senior Lauren Evans. She returns as the team’s starting shortstop.
Evans saw time in the circle as New Franklin’s No. 2 pitcher last season. Dowell said she will be a shortstop this season.
Evans also is the top hitter returning. She hit .381 with a .887 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) in 2017.
Handling pitching duties this season will be senior Lyndsey Brown, and sophomores Annie Benner and Alexia Sprick.
Sprick handled a majority of the pitching last season, throwing 50 innings from the circle. She finished the season with a 6.86 ERA, with 50 walks and 21 strikeouts.
Three pitchers combined for 188 free passes last season, with 163 walks and 25 hit-by-pitch.
“You just can’t defend a walk,” Dowell said.
Brown is projected to be New Franklin’s No. 1 pitcher, with Sprick at No. 2 and Benner as No. 3 pitcher.
The Lady Bulldogs finished with a 2-4 record in the Central Activities Conference last season. Their conference wins were against Glasgow (13-2) and Slater (15-2). Dowell said he expects New Franklin to finish somewhere in the middle of the conference standings this season.
New Franklin will begin their season on Aug. 25 at the Lady Pirates Lead-off Classic in Boonville. Seedings and game times for the tournament were not available at press time.
The Lady Bulldogs will have a few days off after the Lady Pirates Lead-off Classic before their home opener. They start off at home with three straight conference games.
The Lady Bulldogs host Slater on Aug. 30. They play again the following day, Aug. 31, against Madison. New Franklin will host Cairo on Sept. 4. All three games are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.