High school baseball: Bridges has big shoes to fill as he takes over at Carson

Published 12:01 am Thursday, February 9, 2023

By Mike London


CHINA GROVE — Chris Cauble’s 411 varsity high school baseball coaching wins made him the Rowan County record-holder by a lot.

Bill Kesler, who coached 295 wins at North Rowan, is second.

Cauble racked up 136 of his wins at West Rowan, where he is still the program record-holder.

His last 275 victories came at Carson, where he served as the head coach since the school’s debut baseball season in the spring of 2007.

Carson’s all-time winning percentage is a stellar .672, meaning Cauble and his staff overcame two lean start-up years and built a perennially strong program. If COVID hadn’t crippled the 2020 season and sliced 2021 in half, Cauble could have won 300 games in a Carson uniform.

With Cauble stepping down, the next man up for the Cougars is Kyle Bridges.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill,” Bridges said. “Coach Cauble is a legend, but more than that he’s been one of my mentors. He’s been a friend. He’s a big reason I became a coach.”

Bridges owns zero official varsity head coaching wins, but he is ready to start piling them up.

He is a settled 30-year-old family man, married with a young daughter.

Bridges was an agile first baseman for Cauble on strong Carson teams from 2009-11. The 2010 team that went 20-8 was the first Carson team to win 20.

In his high school days, Bridges was a high-contact, high average lefty swinger who batted .286, .351 and .344 for the Cougars, while striking out about five times per season. He provided a steady stream of line-drive singles and doubles for the Cougars. Then he spent his summers playing American Legion baseball for Kannapolis and South Rowan.

He played some college ball as a freshman at Lynchburg University before transferring to Catawba College, which had recruited him coming out of high school and was a whole lot closer to home and family. While baseball didn’t work out for Bridges at Catawba, education did, and he entered the teaching field.

He got his first chance to coach from Brian Hightower, who added the young teacher to the East staff.

“That was in 2014,” Bridges said. “I had a chance to be the head jayvee coach at East Rowan, and then I coached Rowan Junior Legion and East Rowan Junior Legion.”

He made the move from East to Carson in August as the heir apparent to Cauble, who had continued as head baseball coach for the 2022 season, even after he had retired from teaching P.E. classes.

Bridges teaches weightlifting and freshman P.E. at Carson, so he’s in daily contact with a lot of the school’s athletes. He coached Carson’s entry in the area fall league.

His first Carson squad should be a good one. He’ll have an anchor in pitching ace/slugger Hayden Simmerson, a Catawba signee.

“He’s a stud,” Bridges said.

Catcher Cameron Burleyson, who signed with Catawba, and Surry Community College signees Mikey Beasley, a lefty pitcher, and Emory Taylor, an infielder, are three more players for the Cougars to build around. The Cougars aren’t in a rebuilding mode. They were 18-11 a year ago.

Burleyson, Beasley and Taylor are on the basketball court now, but they’re veterans, and Bridges isn’t worried about getting them on the baseball field a little late. He’s also excited about a number of young players at Carson.

Workouts have been going on for a while. Official practice for baseball and the other spring sports gets started on Feb. 13.

“Carson is home for me, so it’s pretty cool to be back home,” Bridges said. “Coach Cauble built something great here. I just want to keep it going.”