Patrick McCubbins sat in his office and reflected on his 2018 squad that finished with the most wins in school history, but was bounced in the first round of the 4A State Tournament.
McCubbins said the Wolves’ 14-9 loss in the first round still sits with him.
“I lose sleep over games from eight years ago,” said McCubbins, an 11-season manager. “But, with good reason, this one stings a bit more.”
His Estrella Foothills baseball team rode a stretch of 19 wins in 20 attempts to close out the season and land a No. 6 seed in the postseason. A win over the No. 11 St. Mary’s Knights in round one would advance the 27-2 Wolves to the double-elimination round.
Holding on to a 9-8 lead in the top of the seventh inning, the Knights stunned the Wolves with nine runs to take a commanding 14-9 advantage.
They held on to win, ending a potential Wolves’ run that looked destined to go deep into the tournament.
“We were set up the same as we’d been all year long,” McCubbins said. “The boys didn’t do anything wrong; St. Mary’s was tremendous. It was a very good baseball game. If we go back and make a couple plays, it’s obviously a different game, but that’s baseball.”
While the skipper gushed about his talent for the next few springs, a first-round exit this season caught him off guard.
This 2018 group was talented, replete with senior leadership and experience that made them a favorite out of the 4A conference. Not to mention, the Wolves had the same starting lineup this year after graduating just one player last season.
And naturally, the initial feeling of unfulfillment will linger. It will likely remain throughout the off-season, but it won’t hold McCubbins’ group back.
If anything, it’ll serve as a nudge in the right direction for where Estrella Foothills aims to be next spring.
“We have seven starters returning,” McCubbins said. “We’ve got a lot of talent coming back.”
As frequently as players come and go at the high school level, McCubbins prides himself on the consistency of his program.
In his 11 seasons, the Wolves have made 10 postseason appearances. They were in back-to-back state championship games in ’11 and ’12. They’ve reached the 20-win plateau six times.
“That consistency and pride we instill in the program is a fine line to flirt with,” McCubbins said. “I want them to carry themselves with humility but I want them to play with tremendous confidence.”
This spring, the Wolves were served a healthy dosage of humility and confidence. They won 19 straight games, playing their best ball to close out the regular season.
But baseball is a humbling game. A regular season filled with success and triumph was brought back down to earth after a first-round loss to St. Mary’s.
McCubbins said he will learn from this. He’ll adjust and replay that game in his head until next spring, when he’ll take on another potent squad filled with four-year and three-year starters.
“I think we’re going to go in as one of the favorites next year, and I think we’re going to go pretty deep,” he said.