FRANKLIN, Ind. – With a bevy of experience up and down the lineup and on the pitching staff, the Franklin College baseball team heads into the 2018 season with lofty expectations.
The Grizzlies went 21-17 and 13-12 in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) play in 2017. Despite holding a winning record overall and in league play, the Grizzlies were shut out of last season's HCAC tournament.
In order to return to the conference tournament, the Grizzlies will rely on a deep team that brings back eight lineup regulars and four members of their starting rotation. A veteran lineup combined with a team itching to get back into post-season play has created a heightened sense of awareness in practice for head coach Lance Marshall's team.
"We're very excited about this group of guys and what we can accomplish," Marshall noted. "They all worked hard in the off-season and we're fortunate to have a veteran group back from last year. The competition level at practice has been fierce. Everyone has brought a sense of urgency to practice so far."
On offense, the Grizzlies return a pair of all-conference performers from a year ago in First Team All-HCAC selection Sam Claycamp, as well as a Second Team All-HCAC pick in catcher Jackson Freed. Those two, along with sophomore first baseman Nick Wright, give the Grizzlies a trio of players that hit over .300 a year ago.
Other lineup mainstays back for another year include seniors Frank Podkul and Ryan Erlandson, juniors Jordan Clark and Tanner Nicholson and sophomores Brandt Pawley, Alex Mis and Jarrod Smith. With a strong veteran core combined with a hungry group of holdovers and newcomers looking to earn playing time, the Grizzlies' offense boasts plenty of depth to handle the grind of a long season.
"Our guys have great approaches at the plate and we feel good about our ability to give us quality at-bats up-and-down the lineup," Marshall added. "We have guys that can hit for power and average, steal bases and we'll draw our fair share of walks. We'll put pressure on pitchers no matter who we put in the starting nine."
Not only is the Franklin offense stocked with depth, but the pitching staff is as well. First Team All-HCAC starter Jordan Clark led the league in strikeouts last year with 80, and returns for another year as the ace of the staff. The starting rotation features a trio of seniors in Christian Sullivan, Mitchell Caster and Aaron Leming that all logged big innings last year.
Those four are joined by a deep bullpen with plenty of strike-throwers that will be counted on to get big outs late in games. The Grizzlies' head coach knows that's a luxury that most teams don't have, and it gives Franklin an edge going into any big weekend series.
"We've got four guys with great track records at the top of our rotation that we feel we can send out there and shut teams down," Marshall continued. "We also have a lot of bullpen guys developing really well through the fall and into practice this year and that gives us some depth that we feel good about to limit opponent's run production."
The Grizzlies open the 2018 season on Saturday (Feb. 24) night, opening a three-game set against Penn St.-Behrend in Chillicothe, Ohio. First pitch is set for 5:00 p.m.