Rowan Coach of the Year: Carson’s Chris Cauble
By Mike London
Carson baseball coach Chris Cauble phoned in the result of his team’s home game against Mooresville on March 12.
Carson 9, Mooresville 5.
“Surprised?” Cauble asked in a cheerful voice that suggested a wide grin.
The Cougars surprised everyone. They didn’t just go 15-10, they went 15-10 playing in a league that arguably included the two best 3A teams in the western half of the state.
“We had high goals, wanted to contend for the NPC championship,” Cauble said. “Then, when we beat Mooresville, that kind of propelled us. Honestly, we wanted more than 15 wins, but looking back it was still a real successful year.”
The first winning season for any program is a landmark step. Carson took it in its third year.
The Cougars were 9-16 and 10-13 in Cauble’s first two tries. He came to the new school after a marvelous run at West Rowan. He was 136-55 at the helm of the Falcons from 2000-06.
The Rowan County Player of the Year as East’s catcher in 1985, Cauble was an assistant on East’s 1995 3A state champions. At West, he was Rowan County Coach of the Year in 2004 and shared the honor in 2001.
No one doubted Cauble would mold Carson into a winner eventually, but he moved up the timetable with the help of an army of assistants.
Helpers included former head coaches Dwayne Fink and Bill Elliott, former sluggers Ben Hampton and Travis Billings and volunteers Jonathon Basinger and Walker Snow.
“Coaches like that can make you look pretty good,” Cauble said.
East’s Brian Hightower won the three previous Coach of the Year awards and led his team to a 23-5 record and the fourth round of the playoffs this season, while West’s David Wright overcame a discouraging 0-6 start to finish 15-10.
Still, it’s hard not to give the nod to Cauble. East and West were loaded with talent and experience. Carson was young and unproven.
Entering the season, the given for the Cougars was sophomore shortstop Gunnar Hogan. Zack Grkman, moving from second base to center field, figured to hold his own. There were question marks everywhere else.
Both of Cauble’s power guys, Joe Basinger and Scott Ashby, were banged up from football. Basinger had a wrecked knee that limited the former catcher to DH duties. Ashby had a damaged shoulder that made each throw from left field a painful chore.
Junior second baseman Julio Zubillaga (wrist) and junior catcher Tyler Freeze (eye) were coming off seasons ruined by injury. Who knew what to expect?
No one knew anything about mystery third baseman Patrick Bearden except that he liked to hunt. No one knew anything about outfielder/pitcher Weston Snow except that he was Walker’s brother. No one knew anything about first baseman Kyle Bridges except that he was only a sophomore.
Then there was the pitching staff. None of the returning hurlers had ever won a varsity ballgame. For even the most enthusiastic Carson supporter, that staggering stat was a red flag.
“We didn’t have any strikeout pitchers, so we knew we had to to limit walks and play great defense,” Cauble said. “We did that. Defensively, I felt we were as good as just about anybody we lined up against. Hogan and Zubillaga were tough up the middle. Bearden just made play after play at third.”
Cauble brings major energy to the dugout. That fire rubbed off on players who believed they could turn the corner.
“Losing isn’t fun, and we all knew we needed to turn it around,” Ashby said. “Cauble was Cauble ó intense. He never gave up, and we had respect for that. He wanted to win bad and instilled that in all of us. Then that Mooresville game happened. That let everybody know we were here.”
Two key events occurred in the Mooresville game. Projected closer Will Misenheimer started on the mound and pitched shutout ball for four innings. He would become Cauble’s ace.
The other development was Carson overcame a 4-2 deficit with a seven-run fifth. The Cougars learned they had the firepower to come from behind. They would finish the season batting .370 as a team.
Ashby’s role was key. The senior wasn’t in the lineup opening day because Cauble feared runners would take an extra base on every ball hit to left field.
“The second game I just put him out there,” Cauble said. “He went 2-for-3 and just about told me I had to play him. He gave us a lot of big hits, a lot of leadership.”
Things fell into place. Freeze (.385) and Zubillaga (.395) proved they weren’t just as good as they had been before the injuries ó they were better.
“Watching those two grow and have the kind of years they had was a very neat thing,” Cauble said.
Grkman (.369) produced as the leadoff man. Basinger hit .400. Bridges and Bearden combined for 24 RBIs at the corners. Caleb Srackangast (10-for-21) excelled off the bench. Backup catcher Zach Gragg hit .316.
Nich Glass won five games on the mound. Snow, Jesse Park and youngster Mitch Galloway won two apiece. Misenheimer worked 61 innings, pitched the tough games and kept the Cougars in almost all of them.
There were peaks and valleys, but Carson finished fifth in the NPC with an 11-7 record and only looked overmatched twice ó in home games against East and Lake Norman.
Cauble is enthusiastic about 2010. Ashby was the only senior in the lineup for Carson’s playoff loss at T.C. Roberson. If the pitching comes through, the Cougars can climb higher in a revised NPC that will no longer include Lake Norman, Mooresville and Northwest Cabarrus.
“We earned respect,” Cauble said. “I told the guys we got to the hump. Next year, we want to get over it.”