PHEBA — David Hudson still is adjusting to hearing the word “coach” before his name.
Not that Hudson doesn’t know the game of fast-pitch softball. He assisted head coach Cass Tapley the past two seasons at Hebron Christian School. But when Tapley decided not to coach the team this season, Hudson stepped forward and accepted the offer to lead a young team.
In many ways, Hudson, who has never been a head coach at the high school level, will grow with his players. The first step will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday when Hebron Christian plays host to Winston Academy.
“I know all of the girls, and I guess I am the only one who didn’t have a really good excuse why I couldn’t coach,” said Hudson, who works at Woodland Furniture, a family owned furniture, mattresses, and lawn and garden store in Woodland, which is in Chickasaw County.
Hudson’s two daughters, Millie and Holly, will be in the eighth grade this season. His niece, Heather Jackson, is a senior, but this is her first year playing.
Hudson said fundamentals will be key this season with a team of 10 players and no juniors. He said three other players could join the program. The Lady Eagles will move on without pitcher Chloe Tapley, who opted not to play her senior season, and catcher Alaina Hill, who transferred to East Webster High School.
Hebron Christian also will have to recover from graduation losses that included first baseman Tori Nichols, who also was a standout girls basketball player.
But Hudson and his players aren’t going to allow what they don’t have to get them down.
“I don’t think they have any unrealistic expectations,” Hudson said. “I told them just to play because they love the game. You want to win, but we’re going to play for the love of the game and build for the future. In the next two or three or four years we will be back to where we need to be, I hope.”
Hudson, who has coached rec and travel ball teams, said he will do his best to bring the young players along and to help Hebron Christian get back to the level it has been at the past four years. In 2008, Hebron Christian won District 3A. In 2010, the Lady Eagles went 27-13, were the runner-up in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A North State tournament, and took third in the overall Class A State tournament. Hebron Christian lost seven seniors from that team, including All-State players Magen Tapley and Cathryn Moore, and five starters.
Last season, Chloe Tapley earned her second consecutive honor as The Dispatch’s Private School Fast-Pitch Player of the Year. The team went 1-2 in the Class A North State tournament and didn’t advance to the state tournament. Both losses were by one run. Tapley struck out 251 in 130 innings and had an ERA of 0.84. She threw three no-hitters and had five shutouts. She also surpassed 1,000 career strikeouts in a game against Calhoun Academy last September. She hit .417 and led the team with 27 runs, 20 walks, and a .615 on-base percentage.
Hudson knows things will change without Tapley in the circle. He admits he didn’t know there was as much to coaching a team, and that he is sure he will discover even more about the job as the season progresses. The fact that two players have never played and that five or six play all of the time but are so young will create plenty of teaching moments.
“We have a good core group,” Hudson said. “We just need to build on it and train them some.”
Just as he is adjusting to being called “coach”, Hudson said he hasn’t had time to get nervous about the team’s debut. He said Woodland Furniture has been busy this week filling a big order, but that by Monday he likely will be nervous for his first game as the team’s head coach.
“Our core group has been playing so long. Most of them played high school last year,” Hudson said. “They have the fundamentals. We just have to teach the other ones and hope it all comes together so we can win some games this year.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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