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Coach Drew prepares the Hot Dogs for softball season

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DEAN: Frankfort softball player Morgan Dean hits off a tee during Wednesday’s practice.
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DREW: Frankfort junior Avery Drew will be counted on even more after playing key roles for the Hot Dogs in her freshman and junior seasons.
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ROBERTS: Chloe Roberts works on her batting skills during Wednesday’s practice at Frankfort High School.
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NORMAN: Frankfort freshman Kylie Norman tracks a fly ball late in Wednesday’s practice.

By AARON KENNEDY - akennedy@ftimes.com

Gary Drew takes over as the head coach of the Frankfort High School softball team after helping as an assistant coach last year, and he has been busy preparing the Hot Dogs for the upcoming season during this first week of practices.

Already very familiar with the program, Drew has been working with a team that lost a trio of valuable veterans to graduation last May in Carson Hackerd, Casey Robertson and Samantha Melton. That trio accounted for three of the Hot Dogs’ top four bats last year, when they compiled an 11-13 record.

“Those are three big holes that we have to fill, and we are extremely young,” Drew said. “We only have two seniors on the team with Kyree Shelley and Thaiz Mejia. We have a pretty talented group of juniors and some sophomores who started for us last year. We do have a pretty strong group of freshmen who will be dressing varsity and could find their way into the lineup. But, we are young. We are extremely young.”

Luckily for Drew, they do return experienced players at key spots.

“Avery and Carson split time at pitcher last year,” coach Drew said. “Avery is back this year as a junior. Kimee Kingma pitched some (junior varsity) last year. We are looking at her pitching on the varsity this year. And then we’ve got two freshmen who have time (pitching) also, so we will see how they factor into the mix. Right now, we have enough girls to have a varsity and JV team this year. So, we are going to have to split our pitching time.”

Two of last year’s top batting averages return this year to lead the lineup.

Shelley batted .513 as a junior with a team-high 36 RBIs and six home runs on 40 hits while Drew batted .443 with 13 RBIs and 30 runs scored.

“As far as athleticism goes, the kid (Shelley) is amazing,” coach Drew said. “On a softball field, there is pretty much nothing she can’t do. We are probably going to move her a little more toward catching this year from third base, which has been her key spot. She has expressed interest in doing some catching this year, and our catcher did not come back this year. She is focusing on her education. So, we are going to change (Shelley’s) role a little bit. As far as hitting, that will be the battery that keeps us going just because she hits the ball hard, and she doesn’t strike out. She is extremely consistent. We are excepting big things from her.

“We have a couple retuning girls in our lineup,” he added. “The top of our lineup is strong with girls with a lot of travel ball and high school experience. Avery Drew will go to our leadoff spot because she is quick and goes from the left side of the plate. She starts us off, and then we will probably go to Chloe Roberts (.270, 20 hits, 15 runs scored in 2017) in the No. 2 spot. Right now, we are trying to find one more consistent bat to go to the No. 3 spot because I would like to go back to Kyree batting in the cleanup spot. And then we have some good bats. Morgan Dean (.277, 15 RBIs) is swinging the bat pretty well right now. A couple of the freshmen, between Katie Roberts and Kylie Norman, I like what I am seeing in their swings right now. It is just developing some of the younger talent and seeing if they can contribute to the team this year.”

The Hot Dogs will work on filling their vacancies in the infield before they host the Carroll Cougars for a scrimmage Thursday before opening the season the season on March 21 at Lafayette Central Catholic

“Between conditioning and the practices that we have, we have some idea of what we are looking at,” coach Drew said. “We are always open to seeing what girls we can move up from JV to varsity.

“We have some big holes to fill from last year,” he added. “We lost three starters, and they were all vital keys to what we were doing. Carson was a pitcher and first baseman with a strong bat. Casey was a second baseman with a strong bat. Sam, at one point of the season, led the team in hitting. Those are big shoes to fill, but I feel like we have some underclassmen who are up to the task. It is a matter of who develops from here to there. It is tough to transition freshmen in, especially in conference games. We are in a tough conference when you are throwing in the Lebanon, Danville and Western Boone. Then you throw in our county schedule with Clinton Prairie, Clinton Central and Rossville. We have a very competitive softball schedule. I am optimistic on how we are going to do. I think we are going to be alright. It is just a matter of playing the games.”

Coach Drew would like to see consistent progress throughout the spring season.

“You always want to progress,” he said. “As a coach, you hope that when you come in you see the girls grow as softball players and as people. I am confident with the coaches that I am surrounding myself with that we are going to be alright in strategizing. I think, this year, that we will have the ability to win the close games. Our softball IQs are high. I see the older one mentoring the younger ones more so now. The goal that I have is to have a winning record this year. We will start there.”