When the Bearden softball team steps onto the field in a regional game against Gibbs on Monday, it will be the culmination of a season that included a first place district finish and a 25-10-1 record.
But just a couple of seasons ago, that would not have seemed possible.
The man that has been behind the rebuilding of the Lady Bulldog’s program is 2015 District 4-AAA coach of the year Leonard Sams.
“He’s really a great coach,” senior Alaeni Ray said. “He keeps the girls connected as much as possible, and he does a lot of things for us.
“He just really keeps us bonded off the field and keeps us connected and is really motivating as a coach.”
Added senior pitcher Dana Steinbacher: “Coach Sams pushes us to be the best we can be and supports us in everything we do. He doesn’t accept anything less than our best.
“We’ve really grown as a family both on and off the field [since I’ve been here].”
Coach Sams has been the coach at Bearden for seven seasons, and has seen the softball team achieve drastic improvement.
One feat Coach Sams has not yet reached at Bearden is an appearance in the state tournament, which the Lady Bulldogs could get closer to accomplishing when they go on the road to face Gibbs on Monday at 6 p.m.
A large part of Bearden’s improvement under Coach Sams has been the Lady Bulldogs’ current senior class.
The six seniors on the roster have won 103 games while at Bearden.
“This senior class was one of the first middle school teams we started six years ago,” Coach Sams said. “This was the first group that has gone completely through the rebuilding process we started.
“They undertook the role of not only rebuilding the program, but to have future teams maintain the program to the highest level possible.”
Though the last four seasons that the current Bearden seniors have taken part in have been special, this year has been the best.
The first place district finish was the first for the Lady Bulldogs since Coach Sams has been leading the program, and was a major reason for Coach Sams being voted as District 4-AAA Coach of the Year.
“Winning district coach of the year (voted) by your peers is always the highest honor,” Coach Sams said. “However, I give the credit to the players.
“These girls came together as a team through many adversities that allowed them to be successful on and off the field. Other coaches sent the high praise to the team being a family. Back in November, we spent a lot of time explaining that in order to make it to postseason, we first must become a softball family. It has showed that they are as one.”