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The house that Cassady built

Mallory Bair isn't known for keeping things to herself.

So, when an epiphany hit the former Merced College first baseman during a practice last spring, she couldn't wait to tell She-Devil coach Steve Cassady.

"Just joking around -- like always -- I said, 'Coach, you've been a great coach to all of us. This is going to be your best year and you have your favorite group of girls. You should probably just retire after this year,' " Bair recalled. "He just laughed at me."

A few months later, Bair ran into Cassady at a Cool Hand Lukes restaurant.

"I asked him what next year was going to look like and he told me he was stepping down," Bair said. "He joked and said it was because of what I said."

While it might not be for the reasons that Bair listed, Cassady did see this as the perfect time to walk away after 21 seasons as the She-Devils' softball coach.

Cassady has compiled a 607-318-2 record, won five Central Valley Conference titles and has led MC to the state finals three times.

Assistant coach and former Merced College and Cal State Stanislaus star Suzanne Burrola will assume the head coaching duties.

"I've been leaning towards it for sometime," Cassady said. "It's been a good run and this is a good year to end on."

There may not have been a better time to try and transition in a new coach.

Merced College graduated 11 sophomores and will only have three players returning next season.

With the program basically rebuilding from scratch, it's a good opportunity for a new coach.

"Nobody saw this coming," Burrola said. "The first time he mentioned anything to me was after our playoff game.

"When he asked me what I thought about taking over as coach, I was at a loss for words.

"I just sat there with mouth open for a minute, before I finally said yes."

Cassady leaves an intimidating legacy, but both he and Burrola are confident she can keep the She-Devils' softball tradition going.

"I know that I have big shoes to fill, but after coaching beside him for the last three years, I've learned so much about preparation and teaching," Burrola said.

"Besides, I know he'll still be around to help me out if I need it."

The news was bittersweet for Cassady's few returners.

"I only got one year under him, so obviously I'm not happy he's leaving," center fielder Nicole Blades-Moore said. "But Suzanne's stepping in, so that should be fun. We know we'll work hard with her.

"There aren't a lot of coaches like Cassady, though.

"One of my favorite things was once we started getting comfortable with him, he'd start giving out nicknames.

"You had to earn it, though. If you couldn't get a nickname, it meant you weren't doing very well.

"I loved it. I loved going to practice."

While most of Cassady's nicknames couldn't be printed, they sum up his approach to coaching perfectly.

He constantly cut a balance between disciplinarian and class clown.

"I wanted to take the drudgery out of practice," Cassady said. "In anything you do, you can't lose yourself and succeed.

"I'm someone who needs to be enjoying himself, and so I've always wanted to blur the lines between work and fun."

Cassady will continue on as MC's athletic director and doesn't see that ending any time soon.

"I like the involvement in the school, and as long as I'm enjoying doing it I'll be here," Cassady said. "I'm proud of what we've done at Merced College.

"I think we've done something significant, athletically and in the community.

"We've created a tradition here."

Cassady's softball teams are at the forefront of the MC heritage.

After going 13-23 in his first season and 21-21 in his second, the She-Devils have run off 19 consecutive winning seasons.

"When you put everything you have into something for 21 years, you have to take inventory," Cassady said. "I wanted to do things a certain way and I wanted Merced College softball to mean something.

"I wanted to build a community and state reputation and I think we did that."

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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