Hayes proud of team's accomplishments|Tiger coach going out in style

Published 9:13 pm Friday, June 4, 2010

By By KEVIN TRAVIS, Sports Editor
WILLIAMSTON — Damon Hayes is uncertain where he’ll be next year. He does know where he’ll be this weekend, and that’s Walnut Creek — site of the N.C. High School Athletic Association state softball championships.
For now, the Williamston High School coach is content with that. If this is it as head coach in Martin County for Hayes, he couldn’t be prouder of how his team is leaving.
“There’s no better way,” Hayes said. “With the group of seniors (Heather Jackson, Cassie Harrell and Harris Shepherd) we have, if I had to pick a time to leave, now is the time.”
Hayes’ Tigers (18-7) will play Midway (20-6) for the NCHSAA Class 1-A East Regional championship today at 5 p.m. The winner will face the survivor between two-time defending state champion East Surry (24-6) and perennial power Swain County (22-4) at 7:30 p.m., with the losers meeting in an elimination game at the same time.
A loser’s bracket final will be played at 11 a.m. Saturday. The championship game will be held at 1:30 p.m. If a second game is needed, it will be played at 4 p.m.
While Hayes has taken his Tigers to the playoffs every year since 2002, this is the team’s first trip to the state championships. He’s proud of the success his teams have enjoyed.
“I’ve always hoped that we’re building a program here,” said Hayes, who has guided the Tigers to five conference championships and a 128-59 record since 2003. “Now with us getting to Walnut Creek, maybe that can be a tradition that we look forward to.
“We always come up with individual goals and team goals. The main one is to win conference championships. Then it’s to be competitive in the playoff rounds. Now we’re hoping getting to state will be a tradition.”
Despite having success in softball, Hayes, the 2007 WDN Coach of the Year, doesn’t take credit for it.
“I don’t think I am (a great coach),” Hayes said. “I have good players. I don’t think it’s the coach. I think you have to have players that are able to do what they need to do.
“You can’t coach winning. If a player is satisfied with being a freshman or sophomore and just making it onto the field, there’s nothing a coach can do. But if they have the ‘want to’ and the eagerness to win and compete as athletes, I think you can do a lot with them.”
Hayes’ players heaped praise upon their coach.
“He works a lot on the little things,” senior shortstop Heather Jackson said. “He tries to keep us together as a team. He comes out here every day and works hard. He has the heart to do it.”
Cassie Harrell, the team’s senior second baseman, agreed.
“Me and coach Hayes are really close,” Harrell said. “We have a bond and we keep pushing ourselves and our teammates.”
This marks the final year for Williamston Tigers athletics. Williamston and Jamesville will merge next year, forming the Riverside Knights. Hayes is glad the Tigers can go out on a high note.
“I think it’s big for the school,” Hayes said. “That says a lot for our school.”
He thinks the consolidation will make next year’s softball team just that much stronger.
“The consolidating is going to make us much better athletically in all sports,” Hayes said. “Just in softball, you’re bringing in Jamesville girls that can make them compete in (Class) 2-A and 3-A.”
Talk of consolidation has been happening for a few years. Hayes and his team never addressed the issue.
“We never talked about it,” Hayes said. “The only thing we can control is what’s going on now. That’s what we always preach.
“It’s the same thing in the game. We can’t control the umps and we can’t control what the other team does. We can only control what we do.”
With consolidation means a reduction in head coaches. Hayes hasn’t been told by the Martin County Board what his role will be next year. However, Jamesville head coach Richie Ange was reportedly asked to be the head coach of the Riverside softball team next year, leaving Hayes with some question marks concerning his future.
“We’re just trying to do the best we can this year,” Hayes said.