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Frankfort looks to build on last season

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GATHER UP: Frankfort head baseball coach Andy Dudley speaks with his team before a practice earlier this month.
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LAPS: Frankfort captains Casey Henry and Jose Valdes Sandoval lead the Hot Dog baseball team in laps to start off a practice earlier this month.
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IN THE CAGE: Jose Valdes Sandoval led the Hot Dogs with 19 RBIs last year. He also is a key relief pitcher for the squad.
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COMPTON: Frankfort head coach Andy Dudley is looking for more from some younger players on last year's squad, including junior Braden Compton.

BY ANDREW KRULL - akrull@ftimes.com

Frankfort baseball hopes to continue the momentum it started last year with a turnaround season that saw them finish 15-12 and take home a share of the Sagamore Conference championship.

“We lost three seniors,” Hot Dogs head coach Andy Dudley said. “All of them really contributed, but as far as the pitching staff and middle of the order we've got most of our key components back.

“We had a really nice bounce-back year,” he noted after finishing 6-17 in 2017. “Really, I thought we were a team that just found a way to grind out a lot of wins. We weren't super impressive statistically or even physically. We were just one of those teams that found ways to win and competed really hard."

The ability to win close games started on the mound and that should be a constant for this year's squad.

“Our pitching staff was really strong, so we get our three main conference pitchers back and then Braden Compton threw some quality innings for us and Jack Wilkins threw some quality innings for us.”

The two pitchers and primary reliever the Hot Dogs used in the biggest games and to secure that conference championship return.

“Christian Lopez and Casey Henry were our main conference starters and we used Jose Valdes Sandoval out of our bullpen in over half of our conference games, so we should have a really good, strong and deep pitching staff,” Dudley said.

Lopez led the staff with 53.1 innings pitched, ERA (.92) and strikeouts (70), while posting a 4-0 record. Henry logged 40 innings with a 3.15 ERA and Valdes Sandoval appeared in a team-high 13 games with a 2.86 ERA in 14.2 innings.

The three graduated seniors that Frankfort lost from last year's squad were Omar Alanis, Luis Hernandez and Jesus Lopez, leaving some holes to fill.

“(Hernandez) did a little DHing, played a little third base and kind of surprised us out of nowhere (by giving) us some innings on the mound last year, and Jesus Lopez was a converted infielder who played some outfield for us and threw a few innings,” Dudley noted.

The biggest loss could be Alanis due to his position and influence on the pitching staff.

“Omar Alanis was our catcher, so that's probably our biggest replacement because that's such a big part of what we do,” Dudley said.

When interviewed earlier this month, Dudley wasn't completely sure how the Hot Dogs planned to deal with Alanis' loss.

“We've got a couple guys we're looking at,” he said, specifically mentioning Wilkins, who played the outfield last year. “We'll say him now.”

Hernandez hit .279 for Frankfort last year, tying for third on the team with 11 RBIs, while Alanis hit .257 with eight RBIs.

The team's biggest run producers return in Lopez and Valdes Sandoval. Lopez led Frankfort in average (with more than 50 at bats) batting .412 last year and in home runs with four and doubles with nine, adding 15 RBIs. Valdes Sandoval hit .389 with a team-leading 19 RBIs. He also had three home runs and led the team with 14 stolen bases.

Other key hitters returning for the Hot Dogs include Roger Angeles (.329), Wilkins (.289 with 11 RBIs and five doubles), Jade Ayers (.292) and Henry (.233 with 10 RBIs). Compton also returns, hitting .167 in 51 plate appearances.

“Christian Lopez, Casey Henry and Jose Valdes Sandoval are all seniors, returning all-conference guys, pitchers, middle of the order and good defensive guys,” Dudley said. “Jose plays third, Christian's an outfielder when he doesn't pitch and Casey's our centerfielder.

“Roger Angel was our shortstop last year,” he added. “He had a really nice year and was second-team all conference.”

Dudley expects more from Ayers, a sophomore, and Compton, a junior, with a year of experience.

“Jade Ayers had a really good year as a freshman for us, hitting down in the order and really supplied a lot of offense in the second half of the order,” he said. “Braden Compton was a sophomore for us last year and started all season. He did a really good job at first. We have some options with him defensively as to what we're going to do.”

Espinoza hit in the middle of the order and may be used differently this year than he was defensively last season.

“Jack Wilkins hit fifth for us last year,” Dudley said. “We're kind of moving him around a little bit. He was an outfielder-pitcher (last year) and he might see some time behind the plate for us.”

Frankfort will look to a group of young players to fill in the holes.

“We've got some young guys that may get a chance to get some reps with the varsity,” Dudley said. “We'll kind of see how things go. Conner Boone has looked really good in the pre-season.

“Deacon Spencer is a freshman who's done a good job getting some varsity reps in. We've just got a lot of options. We've got some older guys that have stepped up and look like they may get a chance to play a role with us. So, we're excited.”

Dudley doesn't dwell on the bigger picture, choosing instead to take care of the matter at hand.

“I always tell our guys that our expectation is that we are going to show up every day to compete to win the day that we show up on the field,” he said. “And if you do that, those bigger goals will take care of themselves.

“Of course, our goal's to win a conference, our goal's to win a sectional and make a tournament run, do all of those things. But, I like to kind of preach you show up and you take care of today and all of those bigger picture things will take care of themselves.”

Dudley also feels he has a staff around him that should help his players improve throughout the season.

“We've got a really good coaching staff that I'm really excited about, top to bottom,” he said.

“I return everyone from last year, so Blake Ayers and Kansas Varner – my two varsity assistants – are back who have been with me, both played college baseball and played for me.

“And then we added Dennis Kas, a former Clinton Prairie coach and Noblesville coach, who coached at the college level for awhile and is a former pro scout and a friend of mine.

"So, he's helping out this year as much as he can. We're excited to add coach Kas to the coaching staff and I think the kids have responded really well.”

The Hot Dogs open the season on April 4 at home against Clinton Prairie and April 5 against Rossville with their first conference game on April 9 against visiting Danville. Frankfort will compete in the county tourney on April 27 and travels to play the Clinton Central on May 3.