The most successful head coach in Pinckneyville Community High School baseball history is moving on - not to another school, but to another sport.
Alan Engelhardt has been named the next PCHS head softball coach, taking over for Mike Cheek as the third head coach in five years for the Lady Panthers. Engelhardt had spent the last ten years of his coaching career with the Panther baseball program, seven as head coach and three as junior-varsity coach. He takes over a softball program that is second only to boys basketball at PCHS in terms of consistent success at the state level in IHSA competition.
Engelhardt said he'll miss coaching baseball, but that the timing of the move to softball feels right given chemistry he has built working with the girls in basketball, where he is also head coach.
"It's just kind of a fit thing," Engelhardt said on Tuesday, "where working with the girls basketball team in the winter it makes sense sliding into the spring with them. It's just a good fit, I work well with the girls - not that I don't think I worked well with the boys, I enjoyed everything with them - but it just simplifies some things, gives some consistency there between winter and spring where the kids know what to expect."
Panther Baseball won a Regional championship in 2006 under then head coach Jason Spannagel, but prior to that, the program hadn't done so since 1978. Engelhardt not only won Regionals his first two seasons at the helm, he led PCHS to the State Finals where they were second in 2007 and third in 2008 - the only IHSA state baseball trophies for Pinckneyville. Panther teams went a combined 64-15 in those two seasons. Engelhardt would add a third Regional to his credentials in 2010.
He also helped spearhead efforts to improve the high school baseball diamond, Rigdon Field, with a grass infield and brick backstop in recent years.
"The biggest thing is that I'm just thankful for the kids who have come through and busted their tails for me," said Engelhardt. "You build relationships with those kids. We talk to the '07-'08 kids when they come back, and they see the grass infield and ask 'why couldn't we have that?' - well, you built it. We were able to get the grass infield, we were able to put up the brick backstop, we were able to add the press box because the interest is there now, because of what those kids did building it up. I'm so proud of the relationships we built with those kids from a baseball standpoint and how they wanted to come out and work and get better."
Engelhardt will turn in his resignation from the baseball coaching job this week. His softball assistants and a new PCHS baseball head coach have yet to be officially named.