Lankford steps down as Stallions coach

Published 8:55 pm Thursday, June 22, 2017

By Mike London

GRANITE QUARRY — After seven seasons and 170 wins, Chris Lankford announced he’s stepping down as the baseball coach of the Greater Cabarrus Stallions.

“I’ve been a coach the last 25 years, so it’s not like I’m leaving the game,” Lankford said. “It’s just time to move in a different direction, to try some different aspects of baseball.”

While no one had heard of the Stallions not long ago, Rowan baseball fans will never forget them. Four Stallions — pitcher/first baseman Hunter Shepherd, pitcher Sawyer Strickland, outfielder Seth Cauble and shortstop Dalton Lankford, Chris’ older son — helped Rowan County American Legion finish runner-up in the World Series last summer. Without the Stallions, the state championship and the regional championship wouldn’t have happened.

Shepherd, a rising sophomore at Catawba, has a chance to play baseball a long time. He was the South Atlantic Conference Freshman of the Year.

Lankford, an Appalachian State graduate with coaching experience at the high school and middle school level, revitalized the Stallions program in 2011 with a core group of players that included Shepherd, Strickland, Noah Jarrett and Dalton Lankford. Dalton was in sixth grade then, while Shepherd, Strickland and Jarrett were seventh-graders.

“I wanted to give guys who didn’t have a team to play on, a chance to play baseball,” Lankford said. “Dalton was being homeschooled, and it was an opportunity to coach him and other kids like him. My wife (Susan) and I took a leap of faith, and we got fortunate. A lot of great kids with great families came on board. We had a great run.”

Lankford said funds were raised through events such as hit-a-thons and golf tournaments, and the Stallions flourished.

Lankford said coaches like Brian Hightower (East Rowan) and Seth Graham (West Rowan) helped give the Stallions experience and exposure.

“They always made sure we had a spot in their fall league and we were always welcomed in their Easter tournament,” Lankford said.

The Stallions placed sixth nationally in the homeschool World Series in 2015 and third in 2016. They weren’t eligible for the homeschool World Series this season as their roster had expanded to include many players who weren’t homeschooled, but they did win their conference. The Stallions won two homeschool state championships.  Lankford’s seven-year record was 170-47, including this year’s 29-6.

Lankford said there were several factors in his stepping down, including opportunities as a college assistant/recruiter and coaching in one of the area’s summer collegiate wood bat leagues.

Lankford’s sons are also a factor. Dalton will be enrolled this fall at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., nine hours and 550 miles from Salisbury, and Chris hopes to see him play some. Lankford’s other son, Thaddaeus, was an eighth-grader on the Stallions this year, but while he’s a good athlete, the sport he wants to focus on is basketball.

One of Lankford’s last acts as Stallions coach was to announce three college signings. Seth Cauble, who is playing for Kannapolis American Legion, is headed to Belmont Abbey as a pitcher, catcher and outfielder. He was the No. 1 pitcher for the Stallions this season. A.J. Knight, who played right field for the Kannapolis Legion team last night, is headed to Montreat as a utility player. Camron Wallace, who rode all the way from Shelby for Stallions practices, is headed to Montreat as a pitcher.

Lankford said the plan is for the Stallions program to continue. He’ll be involved in the search for a new coach.

“I had a great experience coaching the Stallions.” he said. “What am I proudest of? We gave a lot of kids a chance to play baseball and we helped get some of them to college.”