Over the course of the summer I’ve taken on a number of challenges.

This time I tried a challenge against both a pitcher, and her catcher.

I tried to hit off Thailey Franklin, the incoming freshman pitching star at Northeast Bradford, and tried to steal off NEB catcher Emily Susanj, who had no errors a season ago in varsity.

My steal attempts against Susanj were a lot like anyone that has tried to steal off her, very unsuccessful. Most of the times the ball was waiting in her sisters hands at second base long before I got close to the base.

After trying to hit off a number of top pitchers throughout the summer, I’m starting to get a tiny bit better at that, and did hit a comebacker toward Franklin, which she easily fielded, and made contact a few other times.

What was clear, putting a ball past Franklin or trying to steal off Susanj are both really difficult tasks. And, for area teams it’s something they will have to deal with for the next three years as Susanj will be a sophomore and Franklin a freshman.

“We go so well together, I think we are going to work really well and help Northeast get to the top,” Susanj said.

The two have been playing together for a long time, and have been a pitching/catching combo since Susanj was in eighth grade.

“We have been playing together for a little while and we have also played travel together,” Susanj said. “We played together in Little League, but weren’t the battery (pitcher/catcher).”

The two feel like they are only getting better as a combination.

“I think we are getting stronger as we keep playing together,” Franklin said.

Playing travel together is when the pair realized that they really could have some success together.

“I think last year in travel ball, when we started playing good teams” Susanj said. “Junior high isn’t as competitive, once we got to travel ball it was more competitive and we did really well together and we kind of realized.”

While next year will be a big transition for Franklin in high school, she has Emily tl help her.

“It helps me a lot, she is always behind me, always supporting me, just on and off the field,” she said. “I will have Emily there to help me through it all, so that gives me a little cushion to rely on her.”

After a dominant freshman year, where she was the All-Region co-Offensive Player of the Year, and committed no errors on defense, Susanj knows there is more expectations now.

“It’s a little different feeling,” she said. “At first I was trying to prove myself and now that I have it’s more I have to continue doing that and continue where I am.

“It’s kind of a high level I have to maintain and live up to. Next year I want to come back with an even better batting average and do more as a catcher.”

Susanj knows it’s going to be different being a leader on the team now.

“It’s going to be a big challenge, I think it’s really good people look up to me,” Susanj said.

Everything Susanj can do defensively is something that Franklin knows is a help to her.

“It really helps the team, and I,” she said.

While she’s just an incoming freshman, Franklin knows there are some expectations on her going into high school. NEB had Lindsay Moore as their primary pitcher this year, but Moore is a standout defensive player, who is just as comfortable away from the mound if Franklin sees time as a pitcher next season.

“I think they are pretty excited,” Franklin said of her heading to varsity. “I’m pretty excited, it’s going to be a good challenge and I’m ready for it.”

Having Moore on the team, along with Morgan Post, who has pitched a lot in her career, is a big help for Franklin, because she knows no matter what she’s going to get a chance to learn from good leaders.

“It’s good to have someone else to rely on and look up to and help with pitching,” Franklin said. “It’s good to know they can help me and the team and I can rely on them to teach me.”

Already Susanj is ready to work with her friend on the mound.

“It’s fantastic, she’s one of the best pitchers ever,” Susanj said. “It’s a lot of security knowing she can always pitch her best and never give up.”

The experience the two have together just makes them know what to expect more from each other on the field.

“Thailey hits her spots, she always pitches it where she expects it,” Susanj said. “It’s never a surprise, she always pitches it where it’s supposed to be. It’s a good feeling having a pitcher that can do that.

“Her dad (Tilden Franklin) gives me a sign and I can sometimes know I’m not sure that’s what she wants and I can adjust to what she wants to do. She throws most of her pitches perfectly, every single time, sometimes if she’s struggling you can help her come back from that.”

For Franklin having her dad coach her in travel, and as a varsity assistant, is a big help.

“He’s been coaching me for years and gotten me calmer with playing,” she said. “He’s always coaching me and I know he just wants the best for me and wants to make me better.”

And, Susanj also makes Franklin better.

“Just helps me a lot with my nerves,” she said. “I can depend on her, if I’m feeling down and need help I know she’s there for me.”

The girls also know that the varsity coaches at NEB make everyone better.

“He (Gary Hennip) has so much experience, he’s such a good coach,” Franklin said. “Him always being supportive and helping me achieve what I can achieve. He helped me, him and Barry Brown, and all these people have come and helped me and motivated me to be what I am.”