published Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Head softball coach Donald Pickett makes gains at Northwestern State

  • photo
    Donald Pickett, former UTC and Chattanooga State assistant softball coach, is currently head coach at Northwestern State University of Louisiana.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

SCHEDULE

UTC and Chattanooga State fall softball schedules:

Today

Tennessee Temple at Chattanooga State, 3 and 5

Friday

Lady Mocs RBI Club Fall Classic

At Frost Stadium

Chattanooga State vs. Gadsden State, 1

Cleveland State vs. Gadsden State, 3

Cleveland State vs. UTC, 5

Chattanooga State vs. UTC, 7

Saturday

Lady Mocs RBI Club Fall Classic

At Frost Stadium

Roane State vs. UTC, 10 a.m.

Shorter vs. Chattanooga State, noon

Shorter vs. UTC, 2

Bryan vs. UTC, 4

At Warner Park No. 1

Bryan vs. Chattanooga State, 10 a.m.

Bryan vs. Roane State, noon

Roane State vs. Shorter, 4:30

Sunday

Lady Mocs RBI Club Fall Classic

At Frost Stadium

Gadsden State vs. Tennessee State, noon

Gadsden State vs. UTC, 2

Gadsden State vs. UTC, 4

Oct. 12

UTC Blue-Gold game at Frost Stadium, 11 a.m. (RBI Club picnic afterward)

Chattanooga State vs. Bryan at Lee University, 1

Chattanooga State vs. Georgia Highlands at Lee, 5

Nov. 2

Blue-Orange game at Chattanooga State, 10 a.m.

Presumably Donald Pickett knew what he was getting into when he accepted the head softball coaching position at Northwestern State in Natchitoches, La., before the 2009 season.

The Lady Demons program was not in the best of shape. Pickett, who grew up in Whitwell, ended up with a 5-45 coaching record that first season.

"The athletic director told me it was going to be a tough year and that I was going to have to be patient," Pickett said. "We had one pitcher and one catcher, but we made the best of it."

Last year Northwestern State was 40-15, which was a season-best winning percentage in school history. The Lady Demons finished second in the Southland Conference, won the conference tournament and advanced to an NCAA regional.

Northwestern State was supposed to have played its first games of the fall season last Saturday at Baylor in Waco, Texas, but rain forced a postponement of the two-game scrimmage until Tuesday.

Chattanooga State and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, assistant coaching stops along with Memphis for Pickett, have home games on their fall schedules coming up soon. The Lady Tigers host Tennessee Temple today at 3 and 5 p.m. The Lady Mocs RBI Club's annual fall classic is Friday through Sunday at Frost Stadium and Warner Park.

UTC coach Frank Reed was the coach at Chattanooga State when he met with Pickett about getting into coaching at the college level. Pickett was a student at the school at the time and a one-time baseball player there.

"I told him he could help me as long as he stayed in school," Reed said.

Reed said Pickett had some struggles in the classroom but persevered, and they stayed together when Reed took the UTC job. At first Pickett was a volunteer; he later became a paid assistant. He graduated from UTC in 2005.

"He loves the game and got into it because of the fact of that," Reed said. "At first I don't think it was because he wanted to be a college coach. At first it was because he loved it. I gave a job to him, he liked it and later thought he could be able to do that on his own one day. He's always had the desire."

Pickett's 2010 Lady Demons went 27-27, which made them the most improved NCAA Division I softball team in the country that year. With six freshmen in the starting lineup, they were 32-23 the next year and qualified for the conference tournament.

"He's done an excellent job," Reed said. "I think his record speaks for itself."

Pickett applied for the Chattanooga State job when it came open in the fall of 2012 after Beth Keylon-Randolph resigned to become head coach at East Carolina. Pickett, Reed, April Castleberry and Zane Fox comprised the National Fastpitch Coaching Staff of the Year for NJCAA Division I in 2002 at Chattanooga State. And solidfying his ties, Pickett's wife, formerly Paige Cochrane, and sister, Grace Pickett, played there before signing with UTC.

Reed gave a recommendation to Chattanooga State president Jim Catanzaro on behalf of Pickett, but the school chose to hire Blythe Golden. With most of the players gone from the Lady Tigers' 2012 national-championship team, she guided the team to a 35-14 record, 29-9 in the TCCAA, and a third-place finish in the Region VII tournament.

"We talked," Pickett said of his interview. "It just didn't work out."

Regardless, he said he's excited by the fact that seven position players -- all but the center fielder -- and the designated player return from last year's team at Northwestern State, so hopes are high for the coming spring. Not only getting to again but winning at an NCAA regional would help solidify Pickett as a hot commodity in the coaching ranks.

He's happy, but there is one area of the country he would definitely consider an offer from.

"We love Chattanooga," Pickett said. "Both of our families are there. We love the spot we're in down here, too. It's a good situation, really. But at some point in time we'd love to get closer to home and see some familiar faces."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.

about Kelley Smiddie...

Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or ksmiddie@timesfreepress.com.

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