PREVIEW | Grizzlies Aim to Build on Record-Setting Year in 2019

L-R: Lexi Gaffney, Monica Collins and Justice Carmichael are all back to patrol the Franklin outfield in 2019
L-R: Lexi Gaffney, Monica Collins and Justice Carmichael are all back to patrol the Franklin outfield in 2019

FRANKLIN, Ind. – The spring of 2018 was a magical one for the Franklin College softball team and by the time the last out was recorded, the Grizzlies could lay claim to last year being the most successful in program history.

Franklin hit the 30-win mark for the first time in school history and laid claim to their first Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) tournament championship, downing league powerhouse and tourney host Transylvania in a thrilling 1-0 win. That earned the program their first trip to the NCAA Regional, where they claimed their first tournament win with a 10-0 triumph against Greenville before bowing out.

Several pieces from that team are back in the fold for 2019, with five all-conference players and a strong nucleus that has the Grizzlies ready to make another run at the league title. The entire starting outfield returns for another year with First Team All-HCAC selections Justice Carmichael and Lexi Gaffney joined by Second Team All-HCAC selection and HCAC Tournament MVP Monica Collins back to patrol the outfield and set the tone offensively.

The middle of the lineup features a pair of top run-producers from a year ago in catcher Natalie Weber and second baseman Shelby Mager. Weber established herself as one of the most dangerous hitters in the league a year ago, batting .387 with 45 RBI, the latter tying her for most on the team. Mager moved up and down the lineup last season, finishing with a .289 average, 19 RBI and scored the game-winning run in the conference title game.

Despite having a bevvy of production back in the lineup, the Grizzlies will have two big holes to fill with the graduation of Alexis Tarver and Grace Paszek, who combined for 87 hits, 68 RBI and six home runs. That leaves the door open for increased roles for returners Emily Thompson, Abby Hickson, Samantha Cain, Taylor Bounin, Danielle Wyse, Kyra Frye and Tyralee Frye, who will battle with a deep group of newcomers for at-bats.

In the circle, Franklin returns a trio of arms that finished with sub-2.50 earned run averages a year ago. Junior Kayla Selzer will have a chance to take over as the staff ace after a 11-7 sophomore campaign that earned her a Second Team All-HCAC nod. The Indianapolis, Ind.-native finished with a 2.48 ERA in 21 appearances, striking out 60 and walking just 22.

Junior Wyse and sophomore Alisha Burch enter the season locked in a battle for the No. 2 spot on staff. Wyse carried a 2.14 ERA over 19.2 innings last year, appearing in six games and starting three times. Burch logged 13.1 innings over eight appearances as a rookie, finishing with a scant 1.57 ERA.

The Grizzlies will face a tough schedule as they aim to get back to the NCAA Tournament. This year's schedule features nine games against 2018 national qualifiers, with two games each against Calvin, St. Mary's (Ind.), Hope and Transylvania set to take place at Behrens Field.

Franklin opens the 2019 schedule on Friday, Feb. 22, traveling to Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. to take on the Warriors of Indiana Tech. First pitch is set for 5:00 p.m.