Legendary coach Gene Dews brought a wealth of experience to Darton’s softball team as an assistant under his son, but health issues forced him to retire last week. (Herald file photo)
Want To Go?
WHO: Darton State College softball team.
WHAT: 2013 season openers.
WHEN: Today — Game 1 vs. Central Alabama Community College at 1 p.m., followed by Game 2 vs. Wallace at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Sherwood’s Legacy Park.
ALBANY — David Dews knew exactly where to go.
When Darton State College’s softball coach lost longtime assistant Sam White to a head coaching job at Faulkner State Community College, Dews went to the only place he could to fill the position.
His father’s garden.
“Him and momma came to the garden,” said Gene Dews, a 40-year veteran who was a legendary baseball and softball coach at Wallace Community College in Dothan, Ala. “I was out weeding my garden, and David said, ‘Dad, me and mom want to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Oh Lord ...’ ”
Gene has since traded in his gardening tools for a spot on Darton’s coaching staff — a job he never dreamed he would have after retiring from coaching in 2011.
But with the talent Darton brings to the field this season, who could blame the elder Dews? After all, he built the Wallace softball program from scratch and turned it into a national title contender, and he sees the same potential in Albany.
The Lady Cavs, ranked No. 10 in the preseason NJCAA poll, open their season today in their own spring tournament with a doubleheader against Central Alabama Community College and Wallace.
The Lady Cavs, who will start anew this afternoon at 1 p.m. at Sherwood’s Legacy Park against Central Alabama Community College, then play Wallace at 3 p.m., are loaded with returning starters and talented freshmen who make this year’s squad primed for a national title run.
And David Dews believes the addition of his father, who won more than 450 games and three state titles at Wallace, can put his Lady Cavs over the top after a 2012 campaign in which they went 47-7 overall but were denied a trip to the national tournament following a stunning loss to Gordon College in the Region XVII Championship game.
“Him coming in to help us out is a big pick up,” David Dews said. “Now we are preparing these new players we have coming in with the players we have coming back, and I think it’s a really good mix. I think it’s going to be an exciting team to watch.”
Gene — or as his new Darton players affectionately call him, “Daddy Dews” — knows all about exciting softball.
Already a successful baseball coach and athletic director at Wallace, Gene started the softball program in 2001, then won 78 straight conference games and sent several softball players to SEC schools.
David was right by his side as an assistant coach for three years. The tables have since turned, but David insists he and his father have that same chemistry on the field.
“I learned everything from him,” David said. “That’s the crazy thing about it. When we coach, I don’t have to look at what he’s doing and he doesn’t have to see what I’m doing. We just know.”
The respect goes both ways.
“I’m not saying it because he’s my son, but David is a relentless recruiter,” Gene said. “He is a technician. He understands the game and sees things you don’t see.
“One thing that is consistent is his consistency. I wasn’t always nationally ranked when I was a head coach, but he has done that every year (at Darton). And he’s done it without the flamboyancy of his dad and without being arrogant and pompous.”
David is entering his sixth year at Darton and has taken the Lady Cavs to the national tournament twice (2009 and 2011). It would have been three times if not for Gordon’s shocking upset last April.
“That was a heartbreaker,” sophomore outfielder Chelsea Shower said. “It motivates us not 10 times, not 20 times — it puts us over the top. That shouldn’t have happened, and now we have to go get it.”
Showers, who hit .494 last year with 41 RBI and scored 63 runs, is one of three returning All-Region players. She anchors a lineup that the sophomore says doesn’t have a weak spot in it.
“Our lineup is stacked,” Showers said. “There is no way around our lineup. You can’t walk one person to get around somebody. There is always going to be somebody (good) up next.”
Showers is joined by returning All-Region players Kelsea Ogletree, who hit .415 with 41 RBI and scored 33 runs, and Holly Smith, who hit .310 with 20 RBI and scored 23 runs. Left-hander Jenny Willis, who spent last season largely in the shadow of Region XVII Player of the Year and current East Tennessee State pitcher Katy Jordan, leads a pitching staff that includes freshmen Savannah Carlisle (Columbus) and Jostlyn Higgerson (Enterprise, Ala.) and sophomore transfer Heather Sexton (Augusta State).
“The thing I like about this year’s staff is that we have depth,” David said. “Last year we were kind of stuck with two kids (Jordan and Willis), and this year we have four, so we are able to save innings and all of them should be fresh when they go out to start. And it’s quality depth. They all give us a chance to win.”
Darton’s head coach knows his 2013 team has more than just a chance to win.
“There are (expectations), but we have been able to handle them in a mature way,” he said. “That’s how we go about our business. We just try to handle things — good or bad — maturely and know how to win and know how to lose.”
And David gets all that knowledge from his dad, who has already fallen in love with the Darton program in the handful of months he has been associated with it.
“They have been so gracious over here at Darton,” said Gene, who left his wife, Mary Ann, back in Headland, Ala., for the season to coach alongside his son. “We are logging a lot of miles back and forth, but I’ll go ahead and spit it out right now. He has a good ball club. I miss momma, but it’s still a good thing.”