Eric Neel, who has coached high school girls' fast pitch softball teams to five state championships in Mississippi, has been selected as the new softball coach at East Central Community College in Decatur.
Neel comes to the ECCC Lady Warrior program after leading the Lake High School girls' softball team to a second-place finish in the 2018 Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 2A State Fast Pitch Tournament. It was Lake's first appearance in the state championship finals. The Lady Hornets also won the North State Fast Pitch Title this past spring.
Neel will begin his duties at East Central on July 1. He replaces Kristin Chaney, who resigned following the 2018 season. Chaney led the Lady Warriors for six seasons, amassing 233 wins and six trips to the postseason, including a second-place finish at the 2015 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Softball Championship Tournament.
"My family and I feel very blessed to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the East Central Community College family," said Neel, who has coached fast pitch softball at the high school or junior/community college level for 11 years. "There are times in life when things fall into place and line up just right, and there is no denying who has really been in control of working things together. I know the good Lord brought us to this place, and my family looks forward to becoming an active part of the Decatur and Newton County communities.
"Our main goal is to retain the top players from the college's five-county district, as well as recruit the best players from the state and a few out of state. A strong foundation has been laid by Coach Chaney and Coach Hill [assistant coach Megan] within the program, and I look forward to continuing to build a national championship contending team year in and year out."
"Eric Neel is an outstanding coach with a proven track record of commitment to both the academic achievement and athletic development of student-athletes under his leadership," said ECCC President Dr. Billy Stewart. "As a successful coach of championship programs at the high school and community college levels, he knows what it takes to build and maintain a successful softball program. I am confident that Coach Neel will continue to develop our Lady Warrior softball program the EC Way—Excellence with Class, and I am excited that he will be leading the women's softball team at East Central Community College."
Neel began his girls' softball coaching career at East Central High School in Hurley, where his teams played in three straight Class 4A state championship series, winning titles in 2007 and 2009. He was named The (Biloxi) Sun Herald Softball Coach of the Year both championship seasons.
As head coach at Wayne County High School in Waynesboro, he guided the Lady War Eagles to three straight Class 5A state championships in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Neel was named The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger's Softball Coach of the Year in 2010 and the Mississippi Association of Coaches Fast Pitch Softball Coach of the Year in 2012.
As head softball coach at Biloxi High School, he coached the Lady Indians to the second round of the Class 6A state playoffs in 2015. Neel also has coached softball at Petal High School and Quitman High School, as well as taught at Meridian High School, and served as an assistant football coach while at East Central, Wayne County, Petal, Biloxi, and Meridian high schools.
As head softball coach at Darton State College in Albany, Ga., Neel guided the Lady Cavaliers to the NJCAA Region 17 Championship and a trip to the NJCAA Division I Softball National Championship Tournament in 2014. Neel was named the NJCAA Region 17 Coach of the Year after leading Darton State to a 46-12 record. He was also head softball coach at Baton Rouge (La.) Community College in 2015-16.
In all, Neel has compiled a 272-132 record over 11 seasons, including five high school state championships, seven state championship appearances, and seven south or north state titles, as well as one regional championship and national championship tournament appearance at the junior/community college level.
Neel received his bachelor's degree in special education from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2000 and his master's degree in secondary education from William Carey University in 2008.
He and his wife, Lindsey, who will teach English in the Newton County School System beginning this fall, currently reside in Lake. Together they have six children.
"I'm pleased that Eric Neel has accepted the position of head softball coach for our Lady Warriors," said ECCC dean of personnel services and athletics Chris Harris, who chaired the search committee that selected Neel. "Coach Neel's experience in recruiting in the NJCAA will serve him well as he prepares to compete in this very competitive league."
Paul Nixon, who will begin his duties this month as ECCC's new athletics director following the retirement of Harris, also was involved in the search.
"We are excited about the addition of Eric Neel as the next head coach of our softball program," commented Nixon. "He has a history of winning at all levels. Coach Neel plans on getting started right away to complete this year's recruiting class and finalize next year's schedule. He is a high-energy coach who will attract the right young women to East Central softball"