High school baseball: Cauble looks back at record-setting career

Published 12:01 am Saturday, March 11, 2023

By Mike London

CHINA GROVE —  Chris Cauble remembers 2007, those chilly days when winter slowly melted into spring.

Carson’s baseball program was just beginning.

“That year Carson opened, there were 10 different programs represented on the field,” Cauble said, smiling at the memory.

Potential Cougars had migrated to China Grove from every corner of the county.

It was a melting pot. There were freshmen from a variety of middle schools. There also were players who had competed in jayvee or varsity ball elsewhere in the county. They were looking for a fresh start, a second chance. Or maybe they were looking for their first shot at serious playing time.

“I remember telling those guys it didn’t matter what they’d done before and it didn’t matter what I’d done before,” Cauble said. “We had to start our own thing. We had to be Carson Cougars.”

The record book shows that the Cougars won the first baseball game they ever competed in. They scored six runs in the bottom of the first and held on to beat North Rowan 11-7.

Carson finished that debut season 9-16, but the Cougars squirmed into the 3A state playoffs.

The springs rolled by for Cauble and the Cougars. Only one of his 16 Carson teams failed to make the playoffs. That was the second one — 2008. Cauble correctly remembers that the record actually improved (10-13) from the first year.

The serious winning (15-10) would commence in 2009. It never really stopped. Carson earned a reputation as an excellent baseball school. Cauble’s record at Carson was 275-134. That’s a winning percentage of .672.

Carson’s first regular season championship in baseball came in 2013, with Cauble’s son, Blake, notching the final out of the clincher at West Iredell. As far as emotional family moments, that was hard to top.

Cauble, 55, made the difficult decision of stepping down as head coach not long before the current season began.

With 30 years in the school system, he had retired from teaching in 2022 but he had continued to coach Carson baseball. It was assumed he’d come back for 2023, a season in which Carson would have an experienced pitching staff led by Catawba College signee Hayden Simmerson and would be a potential contender in the South Piedmont Conference.

“I could have done it with no problem physically, I believe I could’ve been successful, and I honestly had planned to go out with the guys in this year’s senior class,” Cauble explained. “But when Carson hired Kyle Bridges (who had played  first base for Cauble), I knew Carson had a coach at the school who was ready to be a varsity head coach and could do a great job. It was the right time.”

There were deaths and births, landmark events in the cycle of life that let Cauble know it was time for the next phase.

His father, Jacob, his biggest fan, the one who got him started in sports, passed away at 91 last August.

There already was one grand-child for Cauble and his wife, Kim, to spoil, and then the second one arrived.

“Stepping back from Carson baseball meant a chance to be a better husband, a better father and a better grandfather,” Cauble said. “Being a coach for so long, I missed out on a lot of things with my own kids, but I don’t plan to miss anything with these grand-babies. We might even take a few trips that we’ve always wanted to take. It’s always been all baseball for my family every spring.”

Cauble appreciates growing up in a sports-minded family. He had success in baseball, football and basketball at East Rowan.

He was at his best on the diamond. He was a key part of the 1984 Rowan County American Legion state champs. As East’s catcher, he was the Mark Norris Memorial Award winner for 1985 as the Rowan County Player of the Year.

“I had the good fortune to play high school baseball for Phil Harbinson and American Legion ball for Joe Ferebee, and there’s a lot that can be learned from coaches and men like that,” Cauble said.  “A big part of who I was as a coach came from having those influences in my life.”

Cauble continued to thrive in college baseball, played on two championship teams at East Carolina University and made all-conference for the Pirates in 1987. He graduated in 1990 with a degree in education. He married Kim Yarbrough in the summer of 1991. She also had graduated from East and from ECU.

Cauble’s coaching career had an humbling start in the early 1990s. His task was reviving the program at Knox Middle School.

“My first job coming out of college and I had some good people to work with and a chance to build something from the ground up,” Cauble said. “I had some good players at Knox like Jason Kluttz, Nate Leonard.”

W.A. Cline and Jeff Safrit opened the door for Cauble to return to East Rowan after three years at Knox.

Cauble assisted Safrit on strong East baseball teams. The Mustangs won the 3A state championship in 1995 with one of the county’s all-time teams.

“I learned a lot from Jeff, as far as why he did certain things,” Cauble said. “One memory I have of those days is our guys going back-to-back-to-back-to back. We actually hit four straight home runs in a game, and I don’t think that’s happened very often anywhere.”

Cauble was eager to become a head coach after that championship season, but had to wait a while longer. His final season at East he served as head coach of the jayvees. That was another step in his preparation.

He put in applications. He went after the Davie County job and got an interview. But Davie had an applicant who had coached a state champion at Southwest Guilford. Davie hired that guy — Mike Herndon.

“I was mad for a while about it,” Cauble said. ‘But then Concord gave me a chance to be a head coach.”

That hire was announced shortly before school started in 1998. The Spiders weren’t East Rowan. They didn’t win a lot of games in the spring of 1999, but Cauble made the most of the experience.

“Not a ton of baseball talent, but I got to work with great people at Concord,” Cauble said.

Cauble was thrilled when West Rowan principal Henry Kluttz offered him a chance to lead the Falcons.

From 2000-06, Cauble set the record for most wins ever by a West baseball coach. Those seven teams were 136-55, a .712 winning percentage.

“A lot of great talent and a lot of great families,” Cauble said. “Very special teams.”

The 2005 team was 29-5 and almost won the 3A state championship. That team had a sensational senior class, including Bryan Graham (.396 career batting average), Seth Waller (17 career homers) and Patrick Adams (25 career wins), as well as talented younger players such as Wade Moore and Brett Hatley.

With the 1-2 pitching punch of Adams and Moore, the Falcons had an excellent chance to win the best-of-three state championship series against West Brunswick.

West held the lead in Game 1 when a lightning delay cleared the field. Adams, who had been rolling, struggled when play resumed. West Brunswick put together a four-run sixth and went on to win 9-2.

Cauble probably is asked about that game more than any other that he ever coached.

“In the second round of the playoffs that season, we had a lightning delay at Ragsdale, with Patrick pitching, and we debated back and forth whether to bring him back,” Cauble said. “Patrick came back, pitched beautifully, threw a shutout and we won the ballgame. So when we get the lightning delay against West Brunswick, there really wasn’t a debate. Patrick had done it before and we knew he could do it again. But this time he just couldn’t find the strike zone. West Brunswick also brought their starting pitcher back and he threw well. So we’ll never really know what would have happened, but  I always will feel like we would have won that game and the state championship if we’d hadn’t had that delay. Patrick was dealing.”

West won Game 2 behind Moore. That game included a monumental throw from Adams, who was playing left field.

“Patrick made a throw from the foul pole to the plate on a fly, and our catcher, Ryan Wilson, caught it and made the tag,” Cauble said. “We win Game 2, but then we ran out of gas in the third game.”

When Kluttz accepted the assignment of getting off the ground at Rowan’s new school, he took some West folks with him to Carson. One of them was Cauble.

That’s how Cauble happened to be the first Carson coach, the coach who had to mold players from 10 different schools into a unit.

“”I was lucky to be able to get things started with the help of Dwayne Fink, who had been a varsity coach at South Rowan,” Cauble said. “And then we got Bill Elliott, who had been a head coach at A.L. Brown. Over the years, we had some tremendous assistants who helped keep that winning tradition going.”

The Cougars fielded many outstanding teams. They made it as far as the West championship series with players such as Owen White, a record-breaker and N.C. Gatorade Player of the Year who was a second-round draft pick out of high school. The program also produced Colton Laws, who became a draft pick as a Charlotte 49er.

“We had quite a few special teams, and again, I was blessed with great families and parents,” Cauble said. “The loss I think about the most is the one (in 2013) when we lost to Asheboro in the second round. The No. 9 hitter for Asheboro hit the first home run of his career (off John Daugherty) to beat us.”

That was Daugherty’s only loss of the season. Dillon Atwell had pitched a one-hitter in the first round of the playoffs. The Cougars also had Laws, so that was a season in which they had the pitching punching to go all the way. Maybe they would have if they had survived Asheboro.

But Cauble doesn’t think about that Asheboro home run or that lightning bolt in Raleigh very often. He has few regrets and a lifetime of wonderful memories from baseball.

While his only state title for Cauble was the one he got as an assistant coach at East in his early days, he coached 411 wins at West and Carson, by far the most for a varsity baseball coach in county history. In second place is Bill Kesler, who coached 295 wins at North Rowan.

Cauble has already been out to a few ballparks this season. He went to watch Catawba play because there are a host of former Carson players there.

He went down to Kannapolis to watch East Carolina play Queens, which is coached by former Mustang Ross Steedley.

“It was good seeing (former East pitcher) Jake Hunter and (former South Rowan shortstop) Nathan Chrismon with East Carolina,” Cauble said. “(Recently retired South coach) Thad Chrismon and I are friends. Most people probably don’t realize how close the coaches in Rowan County are. We’re buddies, but fans only see us getting after each other during the games.”

One team that Cauble hasn’t seen yet is Carson.

“I just feel like I needed to give Kyle some space,” Cauble said. “It’s his team now.”

It does feel a little strange for Cauble not to be in the Carson dugout or in the third-base coaching box.

He does feel a little weird not making out lineup cards or asking umpires for a second opinion.

“I’m not ruling out coming back to assist a team someday,” Cauble said. “I know I’ll miss the game.”