PERKINSTON — Mississippi Gulf Coast has named Eric Neel its new softball coach, the third in the school's fast-pitch history. He brings a championship resume to Ross-Smith Field.
His high school squads won six state championships in Mississippi, and he also has an NJCAA Region 17 championship to his credit at the collegiate level.
"I've worked my whole career for a job like this," he said. "It's a chance for me to come to one of the greatest schools in our state, but it's also a chance for me to get back to a lot of my family. I've got the chance to live out my dream as a college softball coach and still participate in their life. The opportunity to be one of the best programs in the country is what intrigued me the whole time. We're looking to take advantage of that."
Neel is from Stone County, and he arrives back at Perkinston after a 28-14 season during his first season at East Central Community College, where he took a freshman-laden Warriors squad to the MACJC Tournament.
ECCC averaged more than seven runs per game, with a .340 team batting average and a .545 slugging percentage. It's no secret what he'll bring to Gulf Coast
"A lot of offense," he said. "We're going to be one of the best offensive teams around. We're going to be very aggressive on the basepaths, and we're going to swing the bats to do damage. We're just gonna play hard on defense. We've got some great pitching already, so we're going to be really good in the circle. It's going to be a team that plays hard. Whatever's going on, they'll never lack the drive to be the very best."
"We're very excited to get Eric Neel onboard," Gulf Coast athletic director Steven Campbell said. "We wanted to find somebody who's had success in this league and community college softball as a whole. He's very familiar with this area, and I think we hit a home run with Eric Neel. Anytime you can get somebody with multiple championships in the state, you feel like you've got the right person. I can't wait to move forward with the new era of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College softball with Eric leading the way."
Neel started his head coaching career at East Central High School, where his teams went to three consecutive Class 4A state championship series between 2007-2009, winning twice. He was the Sun Herald Softball Coach of the Year in 2007 and 2009.
He spent the next three years at Wayne County High School winning state championships, with three straight Class 5A state crowns starting in 2010. He was the 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.
He also coached at Quitman High School, Biloxi High School and Lake High School. At Lake, the Hornets won the North State fast-pitch title for the first time in 2018, advancing to the Class 2A state championship series.
Neel's two previous collegiate coaching stints before East Central were at Darton State College in Georgia and at Baton Rouge. Darton won the region championship and advanced to the NJCAA Division I Softball National Championship in 2014. He was named Region 17 Coach of the Year after compiling a 46-12 record, and he coached at Baton Rouge in 2015-16.
Neel has also been an assistant football coach for 11 years total at East Central, Wayne County, Petal, Biloxi and Meridian.
His career record is 300-146 in 12 seasons.
Neel earned his bachelor's degree in special education from The University of Southern Miss and a master's in secondary education from William Carey.
Neel and his wife Lindsey, who is also an educator, have seven children: Christian, 20; Cole, 14; Ava, 12; Easton, 8; Vallen, 7; Catie, 6; and Cash, 1.
"I want to thank Dr. (Mary) Graham, Dr. (Ladd) Taylor and Steven for the opportunity to come back and lead such a great softball program that's at such a great institution," Neel said. "And I also want to thank Coach Kenneth Long for building an elite program at Gulf Coast. It's an honor to follow in his footsteps."
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCBulldogs on Twitter and MGCCCBulldogs on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.