BENTON — The Benton Lady Panther softball team has been on Cloud 9 for the past month after winning the 6A State Championship. Despite taking the top spot on the diamond, the awards have continued into the offseason as well.
Tuesday during the All-Star Game in Conway, Head Coach Heidi Cox was named the 2013-14 Arkansas High School Coaches Association Outstanding Coach of the Year, adding to an already marvelous season.
“What an honor,” Cox said. “It is pretty neat being voted by your peers. I am very honored that they would even think of me for this award. I’m definitely not worthy of it, but really thankful for it. It is a great ending to an already awesome year.”
Cox, a Texarkana native, took the helm of Benton in the fall of 2011. Since accepting the challenge, Cox has led the Lady Panthers to a 6A State Semifinals berth her first season and back-to-back 6A title games in the previous two, picking up right where former coach Eric Ryan left off.
Despite losing two of the last three title games prior to 2014, Benton finally brought home the golden trophy this year, defeating Sheridan 4-2 with some late-inning heroics from freshman Breanna Langford. The game-winning 3-run home run sealed the deal for Benton as champions, making Cox’s award just icing on the cake.
Cox has become accustomed to high honors in her softball career. As a college athlete at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, Cox played on Gulf South West Division Championship teams in 2001 and ‘02 and was first-team All-GCS both seasons. She was also All-South Region in 2001.
Cox holds the top two batting averages in school history with a .457 in 2002 and .445 in ‘01. She also shares the single-season stolen base record with 17 and a career on-base percentage of .487.
“I am at a different point in my life where you move forward,” Cox said. “To be acknowledged in this area is saying ‘hey, maybe you are doing something right.”
Cox is not taking full responsibility for the award, however.
“It’s not just about me,” Cox said. “It is about these kids we’ve got. They give me and their team and community and chance to be recognized. I am really honored to be a part of the Benton program and this community. It is the talent we have, no doubt. The only thing I had to do with it was to keep them together as a team.”
Cox is the first Saline County softball coach to win the award since former Bryant coach Stacey Mallett was honored in 1998-99. Mallett won the award twice, with the first coming in the 1996-97 season.
“This definitely ranks high in my accomplishments,” Cox said. “But just the fact that it wasn’t just ‘I’ is pretty neat and I am very thankful.”
Even though she has been named the top coach in the state, Cox is still in shock over the championship her team brought home.
“I still get chills thinking about it,” Cox said. “I rewatch the video of Breanna stepping up and getting that last hit and replaying the mistakes that I made and the way the kids came back and picked me up. It’s just everything. This whole year with me being gone on maternity leave and my two assistants working their tail off. I can’t say that I take this honor by myself. These kids and my assistants, Emily (Loy) and Chris (Murphree,) I can’t say enough about them. It was just one awesome year and I am not sure if we will ever top it, but I would like to have many more.”