Final playoff push: Retiring, record-setting Crest head coach knows this year will be his last

By Richard Walker

Crest High enters the 2021 high school baseball playoffs as one of the favorites to take home the N.C. 3A state title.

Crest head baseball coach Steven Hodge talks to his team during the 2017 N.C. 3A championship series in Zebulon.

The Chargers also know it’ll be the last time they’ll be under the direction of record-setting head coach Steven Hodge.

Steven Hodge’s retirement will allow him to enjoy his son Ben Hodge’s collegiate career at Wingate, which just won the NCAA Division II national championship last weekend.

“I wanted to put myself in position to watch him play college ball if he was fortunate enough to play in college,” Steven Hodge said. “And he is. You know, I missed a lot of games with him. I never saw him in middle school because they played at the same time as our games. I’ve been there at Crest for 20 years and it was just time. I’ve enjoyed it and had a really good time with it but I’ve missed a lot of quality family time.”

Steven Hodge’s last playoff run starts Tuesday in the first round of the N.C. 3A playoffs when Crest (12-0), the No. 1 seed in the Western bracket, hosts North Henderson.

And he will leave behind records that may never be broken.

Not only is he the winningest baseball coach in Crest history – he has a 338-148-1 record entering Tuesday’s game – but he’s also the winningest coach in Cleveland County history; He surpassed Shelby’s Casey Morris (325-134 record) last season and only one other coach – Shelby’s Gene Kirkpatrick (202-120) – has won more than 200 games as a high school baseball head coach.

“My attitude is like what I’ve told the guys: ‘Let’s go out and enjoy the moment and hopefully we can make a good run for these seniors and these players that have put a lot of time and effort into this program,'” Steven Hodge said. “I’ve always taken everything as one game at a time. We need to win Tuesday so we can play again on Thursday. We need to win Thursday so we can play again after that.
“It’s really not hit me or stressed me or anything like that. I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve enjoyed coaching baseball.”

Ben Hodge is one of the team’s leaders with a .500 batting average and 6-0 pitching record. Jackson Ledbetter (.420 average), Cole Drewery (.373 average, 1-0 pitching record), Tucker McSwain (2-0 pitching record), Brodie Lewis (2-0 pitching record) and Colby Humphries (1-0 pitching record) are other statistical leaders.

In Tuesday’s game, Ben Hodge is the likely starting pitcher with Humphries at catcher, Ledbetter at first base, Clayton Brown at second base, Blake Davis at third base, McSwain at shortstop, Javarius Green in left field, Porter Hall in center field, Drewery in right field and Luke Reynolds in right field.

Steven Hodge says the youthful team – Ben Hodge and Ledbetter were the only returning starters back from last year’s coronavirus-shortened season – has surpassed his expectations while also increasing Crest’s record-setting conference winning streak to 35 games.

“I honestly thought if we got to 8-4, we might have a chance to get into the playoffs,” Steven Hodge said. “The next thing you know, tradition kind of carries you and you win some games that you might not should win.
“I just think our kids worked hard and believed in themselves.”

Crest’s run in the last seven seasons has been the best in school history and one of the best in Cleveland County history; The Chargers are 136-25 since 2015 with two state runner-up finishes and two Western runner-up finishes and have won 43 of their last 44 games.

The only other comparable stetches in county history came at Shelby from 1922 to 1932 when the Golden Lions went 125-38-3 with four state titles, at Kings Mountain from 1989 to 1994 when the Mountaineers went 110-42 with two state titles and at Burns from 2010 to 2019 when the Bulldogs went 137-86 with one Western runner-up finish.

Steven Hodge credits his players in recent years for the Chargers’ success. That includes six alumni who recently played in NCAA Division I, II and III national competition – Matt Bridges and C.J. Mayhue at East Carolina and Caleb Plummer at Virginia Commonwealth in Division I, Logan McNeely for Division II national champion Wingate and Jack Millen for Division III regional participant U.S. Merchant Marine.

“It’s been crazy,” Steven Hodge said. “The last six years our program has done things that are unbelieveable. Those things don’t normally happen. And they’ve happened because our kids have bought into the program the last 10 years. You have to have good players to do that, too. And we’ve been blessed with some good players.
“I’m just proud of the way our kids have handled it. What our team has done the last few years is just phenomenal.”

Here’s the complete N.C. High School Athletic Association baseball playoff pairings for Tuesday’s first round:

Class 4A

No. 16 Wilmington Hoggard (9-4) at No. 1 Wake Forest Heritage (11-3)
No. 9 Scotland County (11-3) at No. 8 Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons (11-3)
No. 12 Wake Forest (12-2) at No. 5 Southern Pines Pinecrest (13-1)
No. 13 Raleigh Leesville Road (9-4) at No. 4 Fuquay-Varina (10-3)
No. 14 Raleigh Broughton (9-5) at No. 3 Wilmington Ashley (11-3)
No. 11 Wilmington Laney (9-5) at No. 6 Winterville South Central (8-4)
No. 10 Apex Middle Creek (10-4) at No. 7 Raleigh Millbrook (10-4)
No. 15 Purnell Swett (9-5) at No. 2 Hope Mills South View (4-9)

No. 16 Jamestown Ragsdale (9-5) at No. 1 Charlotte Providence (12-2)
No. 9 Cary (11-2) at No. 8 Lake Norman (11-3)
No. 12 Huntersville Hopewell (9-5) at No. 5 Northwest Guilford (11-3)
No. 13 East Forsyth (10-4) at No. 4 Huntersville Hough (14-0)
No. 14 Greensboro Grimsley (10-4) at No. 3 Pfafftown Reagan (12-2)
No. 11 Charlotte Myers Park (12-2) at No. 6 Durham Jordan (11-2)
No. 10 Charlotte Kell (11-3) at No. 7 Porter Ridge (12-2)
No. 15 Charlotte Olympic (9-5) at No. 2 McDowell County (12-1)

Class 3A

No. 16 Fayetteville Cape Fear (11-3) at No. 1 Northern Guilford (14-0)
No. 9 Northern Durham (10-1) at No. 8 Wilson Hunt (8-6)
No. 12 Southeast Guilford (11-3) at No. 5 South Brunswick (8-5)
No. 13 Greenville Rose (10-4) at No. 4 West Johnston (11-3)
No. 14 Jacksonville (8-3) at No. 3 Greenville Conley (12-1)
No. 11 Orange County (10-4) at No. 6 Asheboro (12-2)
No. 10 Cameron Union Pines (12-1) at No. 7 Fayetteville Sanford (13-0)
No. 15 Clayton (10-4) at No. 2 West Carteret (11-0)

No. 16 North Henderson (10-4) at No. 1 Crest (12-0)
No. 9 Concord Cox Mill (11-3) at No. 8 Kings Mountain (11-3)
No. 12 Marvin Ridge (10-4) at No. 5 Northwest Cabarrus (10-4)
No. 13 Winston-Salem Mount Tabor (9-5) at No. 4 Skyland Roberson (13-1)
No. 14 Western Guilford (8-7) at No. 3 East Rowan (12-2)
No. 11 Monroe Sun Valley (11-3) at No. 6 Southwest Guilford (14-0)
No. 10 Asheville (11-3) at No. 7 Waxhaw Cuthbertson (12-2)
No. 15 China Grove Carson (9-4) at No. 2 St. Stephens (9-3)

Class 2A

No. 16 North Pitt (8-2) at No. 1 Mayodan McMichael (8-6)
No. 9 East Bladen (9-4) at No. 8 Croatan (14-0)
No. 12 West Craven (9-4) at No. 5 Roanoke Rapids (11-0)
No. 13 Providence Grove (10-4) at No. 4 North Lenoir (11-3)
No. 14 Whiteville (9-4) at No. 3 Midway (13-1)
No. 11 East Duplin (10-2) at No. 6 First Flight (13-0)
No. 10 Randleman (13-1) at No. 7 Reidsville (9-4)
No. 15 Southwest Onslow (11-3) at No. 2 North Johnston (10-2)

No. 16 Thomasville Ledford (10-3) at No. 1 North Davidson (11-4)
No. 9 East Lincoln (13-1) at No. 8 West Stokes (10-2)
No. 12 Foard (12-2) at No. 5 West Wilkes (14-0)
No. 13 East Bend Forbush (9-5) at No. 4 Bunker Hill (13-1)
No. 14 South Point (10-4) at No. 3 Canton Pisgah (11-2)
No. 11 North Lincoln (11-3) at No. 6 R-S Central (12-2)
No. 10 Oak Grove (10-3) at No. 7 Madison (9-3)
No. 15 South Rowan (12-2) at No. 2 West Stanly (13-1)

Class 1A

No. 16 Ocracoke (7-4) at No. 1 Perquimans (12-2)
No. 9 Hobbton (9-2) at No. 8 East Columbus (6-3)
No. 12 Edenton Holmes (11-3) at No. 5 Roxboro Community (6-4)
No. 13 North Duplin (6-5) at No. 4 Bear Grass Charter (11-1)
No. 14 West Columbus (7-6) at No. 3 East Carteret (11-3)
No. 11 Princeton (8-5) at No. 6 Tarboro (7-4)
No. 10 East Wake Academy (7-2) at No. 7 Rosewood (11-2)
No. 15 Durham Voyager Academy (5-2) at No. 2 Granville Central (7-7)

No. 16 Huntersville Christ the King (9-5) at No. 1 Hayesville (13-1)
No. 9 North Stanly (8-4) at No. 8 Mountain Island Charter (10-2)
No. 12 Lincoln Charter (12-1) at No. 5 Greensboro Cornerstone Charter (10-1)
No. 13 North Moore (8-4) at No. 4 Polk County (8-6)
No. 14 Chatham Charter (10-2) at No. 3 Asheboro Uwharrie Charter (10-1)
No. 11 Murphy (12-2) at No. 6 Boonville Starmount (12-2)
No. 10 Pine Lake Prep (11-3) at No. 7 Cherryville (13-1)
No. 15 Community School of Davidson (10-3) at No. 2 East Surry (13-1)