May 12, 2010 9:24:00 AM
Adam Minichino - firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Branch can''t wait to get started.
The 2010 baseball season recently ended for Heritage Academy, but Branch, who was hired as the school''s new head coach Tuesday, is already rearing to go.
"I am excited for the opportunity," Branch said. "I am kind of overwhelmed. I am trying to take it all in."
Branch isn''t the only new coach at Heritage Academy. Bud Lowe, who coached the school''s slow-pitch softball team this spring, will take over the school''s fast-pitch softball team, which competes in the fall in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools.
"I enjoy working with the kids," said Lowe, who also has coached slow- and fast-pitch softball at Immanuel Christian Academy. "I have coached tournament softball and in the park for a number of years, and I love the game. It''s exciting for me."
Branch just completed his third season at Heritage Academy. He was the head junior high school baseball coach in his first year at the school. He served the past two years as assistant coach to head coach Steve Hancock. This is his first job as a head coach.
"It is definitely going to be a challenge," Branch said. "I guess the biggest challenge is to get them to buy into what we want to do."
Heritage Academy athletic director Bruce Allsup said Branch and Lowe met with their teams Tuesday morning to make everything official.
"I think its a great opportunity for coach Branch," Allsup said. "He is a young and exciting coach who is a hard worker. I think he will take the program what already built with coach Hancock.
"We appreciate what coach Hancock has done for the program. He has brought it a long way, and we look forward to coach Branch taking it to even higher standards."
Branch also served as assistant fast-pitch softball coach this past school year to Ginny Lowery, who coached the team the past two seasons. Branch said he is taking classes at Mississippi University for Women to complete his bachelor''s degree. He said Tyler Hunter, who also worked as an assistant baseball coach at the school this season, will be his assistant coach. He said the school will try to work with him for another assistant coach.
Branch also will coach a Heritage Academy team that will play in the Dizzy Dean League.
As for the high school varsity team, Branch said his goal is to get the Patriots into the playoffs.
"We''re in a tough league and I think we need to establish some more players and get some more depth," Branch said. "Right now we''re limited in numbers. We have to get some more athletes in to better our program."
Hancock, who coached the program the last two seasons, said he is happy for the players and believes the school has promoted a "first-class guy." He said he believes the program is in better shape than it was when he took it over. The Patriots lost six seniors from last season''s team that was the runner-up in Mississippi Association of Independent Schools North AAA Division 2.
"I am excited for him," Hancock said. "Bruce and I are good friends, and he has been a great assistant. He was loyal and hard working. I wish him the best."
Branch said he learned a lot from Hancock and called him an "inspiration." He said Hancock has helped make him a better coach.
Lowe''s daughter, Allie, was a catcher on the fast-pitch team and a pitcher on the junior varsity team. He said the Lady Patriots will be young (no seniors, one junior) in the fall) and his goal is to help instill the love for the game in the players.
Allsup believes Lowe will be able to do that.
"Coach Lowe has been involved in softball for years," Allsup said. "He understands the game and he is going to try to keep both programs going. I think he will be a perfect fit. He will have most for the girls on both squads and he will be able to develop them."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.