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Grizzly Cubs getting coach’s message: Surpass last year’s achievements

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Franklin Community High School kicks off its baseball season this weekend with a training trip to Bowling Green, Ky., but the Grizzly Cubs already have a different final destination in sight.

The defending Class 4A sectional champs aren’t looking for just a repeat of last season’s title, the first in 18 years.

This Franklin team wants more.

“The guys were excited with the season we had, but very disappointed in the way it ended,” said Ryan Feyerabend, a three-year Grizzly Cubs assistant who takes over for the departed Paul Strack. “We felt we were one of the better teams there.”

Franklin dropped a 1-0 decision to No. 8 Jeffersonville in the semifinals of the Evansville Reitz Regional. The new coach wants to follow Strack’s system, with one noticeable tweak. If the Cubs go down this season, they will go down swinging.

“The biggest difference is we are going to be a lot more aggressive offensively,” Feyerabend said. “That is my approach, swing the bats as well as we can.”

For the Cubs, that is an exciting challenge.

“The message has gotten through,” said senior shortstop Jacob Baldridge. “We have spent a lot more time on hitting this spring. When I get up there, I will be up there taking my hacks. He wants us not taking pitches we think we can hit.”

The coach thinks the free-swinging approach will be needed against the type of quality teams the Cubs will face.

“We are trying to get over that hump, so we can be successful against Division-I type pitching because that is what we see in the tournament,” he said.

“We will not be so selective early in counts, especially against better pitchers. If you leave yourself one swing, you’re in trouble.”

Franklin will be tested by a challenging schedule, which includes an early April doubleheader at Cathedral and a home-and-home series with Martinsville.

The Cubs try to build on the success of their 2013 campaign (17-10), which brought a Johnson County Tournament title, Mid-State Conference championship and the first sectional crown since 1995.

Feyerabend was a key junior first baseman and pitcher on the 1995 squad, which went on to win the regional over Columbus North.

“Just getting out of that sectional with ranked Center Grove and Roncalli was special,” he recalled. “The regional title made it even better.”

That is a goal for this year’s Cubs, something the coach reminds his new team every day. “It was really cool,” Feyerabend recalls.

There is reason to think this year’s team has the ingredients to follow in their coach’s footsteps.

Six position starters return, led by third baseman Ross Barr and Baldridge, both seniors. That paired doubled in keying the 2013 sectional title game victory over Franklin Central, 3-1.

“We think we have the potential to do it again,” Baldridge said.

Evan Giles is a “shutdown pitcher,” according to his coach, who will lead a solid staff.

Feyerabend also wants his team to feel they are a part of something special in representing Franklin and helping to build a baseball tradition.

“It is definitely something that I take seriously,” said the coach, who went on to star at Indiana State before returning home. “It definitely means a lot. I live in the community. I knew these guys growing up.”

The next step in that tradition starts this week in southern Kentucky as the Cubs prepare to kick off the season Tuesday at Decatur Central.

“We’re not going to be perfect,” Baldridge said of the three-game road trip, which continues today. “We’re just looking to get down there and get our bats going and grow as a team.”

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