Kelly Chavis, meanwhile, saw a fresh start with a former employer.
Both county baseball coaches, coming off seasons at the opposite ends of the spectrum, are leaving their old posts for new gigs next season.
McDonald and Chavis were both approved last week for the openings at Purnell Swett and St. Pauls and will begin work officially in August. McDonald has met with a few players and plans to speak with his coaching staff in July. Chavis is familiar with a handful of Bulldogs he coached at the junior high level and is looking forward to ironing out his game plan with a new crop of athletes.
“This job gives me a chance to play with the big boys and try to help a program turn the corner,” McDonald said. “I’m working for an athletic director and an administration that really understands what has to be done to win. I think Purnell Swett was a special situation for me.”
Shortly after South Robeson’s fourth-round playoff loss in May, McDonald said it would take a “dream job” to lure him away from Rowland. As it turns out, the Rams were the perfect fit.
“From the outside looking in, I always thought they were close,” McDonald said. “I’ve got to see them play in the Slugfest and regular season the last few years and there is tons of talent over there. I think once we get the foundation in place, we’ll be able to instill some confidence and enjoy a little bit of success.”
McDonald has two decades worth of coaching experience at the prep level and pitched as a collegian at Campbell and N.C. State. He brings a “pound the strike zone” mentality to a team that has struggled from the mound in recent seasons.
Swett has lost more games than any county program since 2008, a trend McDonald expects to change.
“I’ll be honest with you, if we don’t make the playoffs next season I’ll be disappointed,” he said. “There’s no reason why this team can’t make the playoffs immediately. Hopefully I can get them to the upper half of the SEC and take that next step.
Chavis inherits a St. Pauls ballclub that earned a second-place finish in the Three Rivers Conference this season. An assistant coach for the Bulldogs under Kim Cain in 2009, Chavis was an early candidate for the opening when Tommy Townsend alluded to his retirement midway through the season.
“It was all about opportunity and timing for me,” Chavis said. “When the opportunity of going to a team coming off a strong season came open, it was a win-win for me.”
St. Pauls returns two-time all-county outfielder Jhamel Leonard to a lineup that had little trouble scoring runs at the top of the order. Josh Thompson is gone, but Dustin Canady — and his team-leading bat — is back at shortstop.
“It seems like the returning players have a winning mentality and that’s always a plus coming into a job,” Chavis said.