FRANKLIN, Ind. – Coming off a successful 2017 campaign that featured a conference most valuable player and a trip to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) championship game, the Franklin College softball team has been champing at the bit to hit the diamond and build on a special season.
The Grizzlies finished 26-17 a year ago, going 9-6 in HCAC play and earning a spot in the conference title game. Head coach Butch Zike and the Grizzlies all believe that as a new season dawns, the chances for this group of Grizzlies to make an even deeper run are there for the taking.
"The players think that we have a chance to do something really special," Zike noted. "They really want it and they're not afraid to lead the way. We have a tough road in front of us because of how good our conference is and they know we need to bring it every single night if we want to achieve our goal."
What the Grizzlies will have to work with is a starting nine returns four starters in the infield. Seniors Grace Paszek and Alexis Tarver are set to occupy the corner infield positions while Lauren Huebler and Shelby Mager return as the team's double-play combination.
In the outfield, Second Team All-HCAC selection Monica Collins returns after a strong sophomore season one of the team's top hitters and stolen base leader. But nothing is being handed to those coming back for another year, as each player has been tested by a strong class of newcomers and a hungry group of returners looking to make a mark and earn more playing time.
The Grizzly offense will also have a different feel to it this year. With the loss of last year's HCAC Offensive Player of the Year in Savannah Blevins and her 11 home runs, the team will need to rely on other methods to put crooked numbers on the scoreboard and turn to their pitching and defense to make their leads hold up.
"Last year we coached because we could hit three-run home runs," Zike added. "This year, we're going to have to be a bit more inventive on how we score runs. But we expect to be very strong on defense and in the circle and those are two really important facets of the game that you can't ignore if you want to win."
The Grizzlies have the luxury of bringing back two of their top arms from a year ago to keep offenses in check. Fresh off a Second Team All-HCAC selection, senior Olivia Paszek looks to build on a junior year that saw her go 10-6 with a 1.72 earned run average and 100 strikeouts in 110 innings. Also back in the fold is sophomore Kayla Selzer, who compiled an 8-4 record with two saves and a 3.39 ERA over 19 appearances.
The duo are joined on the staff by sophomore transfer Danielle Wyse and freshman Kimmie Kuehr, giving the Grizzlies plenty of depth on the staff and four effective arms that their head coach can go to in order to shut down opposing offenses.
"We like what we have in four very different pitchers," Zike continued. "We're confident in all four of them to take the ball and get people out in different ways. If we can stay healthy, we feel like we have the kind of depth that can give other teams fits."
First pitch of the regular season is set for Saturday, Feb. 24, when the Grizzlies host Berea College for a twin bill at Behrens Field starting at 1:00 p.m.