Red Devils reach new heights

Published 9:33 pm Thursday, June 14, 2012

Coach of the year: Chad Harrison, right, led the Maplesville softball team to its first win at the state tournament in his first season as coach.

Imagine the scenario: New head coach takes over after a team has enjoyed a streak of success. Then, all of a sudden, there’s the former head coach, watching the team play.

What at first might seem like a recipe for disaster instead worked well enough for the Maplesville softball team to enjoy its best season ever.

The new coach, Chad Harrison, got his start in the sport by helping former coach Ashlie Harrison (no relation). Chad took over a program that had been to three consecutive state tournaments, after Ashlie took some time off to spend with her family.

Chad Harrison, The Clanton Advertiser’s Softball Coach of the Year, will take the same route, deciding to spend time with his family instead of come back to coach the Red Devils next season.

Harrison’s tenure ends with the coach being able to hang his hat on the program enjoying its most successful season.

MHS defeated Tharptown, 14-3, on May 17 for its first win at the state tournament in Montgomery in four tries.

“I did a lot of scouting on that first opponent,” Harrison said. “We knew what they were going to do. We took some things away from them, and they got really frustrated.”

The accomplishment is even more remarkable because of the team’s youth. Only four players—seniors Natalie Arnold and Morgan Little, and juniors Kiana Andrews and Autumn Smith—were upperclassmen. The rest were in the seventh through ninth grades, players usually reserved for the junior varsity team.

“It was a struggle with so much inexperience on the team,” Harrison said. “We had to replace our battery from last year. We came in not even knowing who our pitcher and catcher would be.”

Harrison said a turning point came after the Devils lost a game during the regular season and didn’t show much emotion afterward. The coach talked to his players about playing with effort and the outcome being important to them.

“We had a very long team meeting,” he said “After that, it just seemed to matter more to them. I didn’t want them to grow up and go into the job force or whatever else and not know how to compete.”

It also helped having Ashlie Harrison’s experience around periodically.

“She commented on not realizing how easy I had it these past few years (as an assistant),” Chad Harrison said. “It was a lot more work being head coach.”

The state tournament win was a nice payoff, sure, but Harrison said another of his proudest moments was when Smith, the team’s primary pitcher, tossed a perfect game while only recording one strikeout. The rest of the outs were made by a solid Maplesville defense.

“I just thought that said a lot about the team and the effort they played with defensively all year,” Harrison said.