Both East Bladen and West Bladen varsity softball squads will have new head coaches in their dugouts when the season opens — one a newcomer to the high-school coaching ranks, the other a returning veteran.
The Lady Eagles will be under the tutelage of long-time East Bladen trainer Chase Lancaster, who steps in to replace Patty Evers.
“I’ve been around travel ball and coach Evers for a long time now, and I fell in love with the game …” Lancaster said. “I’ve also watched and learned from some real good coaches at East Bladen — like Lenon Fisher, Patty Evers, Russell Priest and Robby Priest.”
Before stepping down, Evers coached the Lady Eagles for five seasons and compiled a 26-41 record in the conference and 35-48 overall.
Lancaster said he’s looking forward to his rookie season as head coach.
“I think we’ll have some talent,” he said. “Coach Evers left the program in great shape — there’s a good foundation and I know I’ll have a lot of help from Chuck Heustess as my assistant coach.
“I’m just ecstatic for the season to begin,” Lancaster added. “
That could be delayed a bit, since Evers is leading her Lady Eagles into the state’s Class 2-A playoffs, where they are hoping for a deep run.
Across the county at West Bladen, the Lady Knights will see the return of veteran varsity head coach Pam Stephens to the dugout. Stephens led West Bladen for five seasons, from 2011 to 2015, during which the Lady Knights had some of their best-ever results — going 48-16 in conference play and 96-29 overall, winning a number of conference titles and a couple of Robeson CountySlugfest championships.
“I heard there was an opening and decided I wanted to get back in,” said Stephens, who stepped down in 2015 when her daughter Taylor, the team’s star third baseman, graduated. “It was good to have time off and re-evaluate some things.”
Stephens is stepping in for Joey Autry, who led the Lady Knights for two seasons — compiling a 24-4 conference mark and 35-13 record overall.
“Joey did a great job keeping the program strong,” Stephens said. “It will be a bit of a rebuilding year for us, but there are a few strong players to count on — and I’ll have good help from assistants Joe Lewis and Huehlon McDaniel.”
Stephens added that her coaching style has been tweaked a little since she was last in the West Bladen dugout.
“I plan to approach things a little differently,” she said. “Girls aren’t the same year to year, and experience makes a difference, so the coaching will have to adapt.
“And in addition to coaching the game, teaching life lessons will be important as always,” she added.
The Lady Knights will host East Bladen for a scrimmage on Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.