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week and riding out the season all the way to completion. The message worked, as Estrella beat

Willcox in the second round May 4, 5-1, then knocked off Holbrook, 11-1 in five innings, on May 5 to reach the Division III state semis. The Wolves had earned a first-round bye.

“These guys get along really well, and they see themselves as a family,” McCubbins said. “We talked all week about earning the opportunity to be with each other for another week, and I was real proud because that was the first comment after the game was, ‘Hey, we earned another week with each other.’ To hear them say that is awesome, because that’s what high school sports are about. You love winning and enjoy the competition, but when you have a group of kids that appreciate each other and enjoy each other as much as ours do, it makes it that much more fun.” The Wolves (25-5) get to spend another week together, but to get over the hump and earn what eluded them last year, they’ll have to work extremely hard. Waiting for them at 4 p.m. Friday at Surprise Stadium is Fountain Hills, while just on the horizon could be another matchup with Blue Ridge in the state championship game. The Yellow Jackets are one of the four remaining teams — along with River Valley — and beat Estrella, 8-6 in nine innings, in last year’s Class 3A state finals.

but there are a lot of veterans here and a lot of people who were here last year,” said Zach Miller, Saturday’s winning pitcher. “We’re just focused on it’s just another game until the championship game.” Estrella faced Fountain Hills (22-11) three times during the regular season, winning twice, 8-0 and 8-7, and losing once, 13-3. The Wolves took care of Holbrook quite easily in Saturday’s quarterfinals, as the Nos. 1-4 hitters in the lineup filled up the box score. Cameron McCubbins, Matt Frank, Ryan Erazo and Sam Williams combined for nine of Estrella’s 11 hits, scoring eight runs and compiling five RBI. A key component to the top of the

“There are a lot of emotions going on,

extra base hit of the game, a double to right- center field in the fourth, which plated a run. Erazo finished 1 for 2 with a walk, two runs scored and two RBI, while Williams was 2 for 3 with an RBI. All of Estrella’s damage came against Holbrook’s starter, Ryan Baldonado. “We knew he wasn’t going to throw too hard, just flat and he had a good changeup,” Frank said. “We just sat on the fastball.”

Second-round win On May 4, the Wolves got behind

Willcox in the first inning but rallied for a 5-1 victory. “We scouted them Tuesday against Combs, knew nothing about them,” coach McCubbins said. “With their athleticism — they played very sound, put a ton of balls in play — we told our guys, this is not what we would perceive as a typical second-round game, it’s going to be a battle.” Willcox hit several balls hard against Estrella starter Erazo in the first inning, and managed to score a run on two hits. It could have been worse if not for the Wolves’ defense. “I couldn’t have got through that inning without my defense,” Erazo said. “The defense was there the whole game, helping me out big time. Matt at shortstop making a diving play, Cameron and Brad, everybody helping out.” In two games over the weekend, Estrella did not commit an error. Its opponents combined for seven. After the first inning, Erazo settled

down and kept the Cowboys’ bats quiet, throwing a complete-game while allowing just five hits, striking out six and walking none. “After that first inning I started getting

the fastball command down,” Erazo said. “They were hitting fastballs up, everything was up, and I started getting them down and they couldn’t touch it.”

View photo by Ray Thomas

ESTRELLA FOOTHILLS’ RYAN ERAZO pitches against Willcox Friday in a third-round game of the Division III state tournament at Surprise Stadium. Erazo pitched the Wolves to a 5-1 victory over the Cowboys.

order’s success was Frank being moved from the leadoff spot to second in the order. “About three weeks ago, Matt was pressing a little bit in the leadoff spot and we made the switch at that point for about five days to take the pressure off him a little bit, and we moved Cameron up top,” coach McCubbins said. “As Matt’s bat came back, he’s got more speed, so we want him up top. [May 4] we felt like he pressed a little bit, and it worked earlier so we went ahead and went with the switch today.” It worked again, as Frank went 4 for 4, scored three times and drove in a run. “I felt good today,” Frank said. “I came out [May 4] pretty bad and didn’t really help the team out. I had to do something.” While the top of the order was doing

its job offensively, Miller and the defense took care of holding down Holbrook. Miller allowed just a walk through the first three innings, and despite scuffling in the fourth and loading the bases, he worked through it allowing just one run. “You’ve seen it before, he gets to that

[Erazo]. It feels good when you’re on the mound and they’re playing defense like that behind you. You just want to keep throwing them in there and saying here you go, my defense will back me up.”

point,” McCubbins said. “We went out and talked to him, said slow down, use your skill set, which is very good. And again, he worked his way out of it.” Other than the fourth, Miller was nearly

flawless. In five innings of work, he gave up two hits and walked three, while striking out five.

throwing strikes,” Miller said. “The defense played outstanding for me today, just like they did last night for Ryan

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Offense Estrella wasted little time getting things going in the first inning against Holbrook, as the first three hitters all singled to give the Wolves a 1-0 advantage. Williams then walked to load the bases, and one out later, Miller singled to center, scoring two runs and making it 3-0. It was 4-1 in the fourth when Estrella tallied four times, and it scored three more in the fifth to end the game by the mercy rule. McCubbins was 2 for 3 with three runs and an RBI. He also had the Wolves’ only

Estrella scored twice in the bottom of the second to take the lead, 2-1. Gibbons led off with a double and advanced to third on an errant pickoff throw by pitcher Jacob Drage. Miller then singled through the middle to tie the game. Miller would eventually score on a wild pitch with two outs. In the fifth, Estrella added a run when McCubbins singled home Baylor Giannini. Gibbons knocked in Williams with a hit in the sixth, and eventually scored on an error. It capped a 2 for 3 day for Gibbons, who scored twice and drove in one. “I was just staying short at the plate,” Gibbons said. “Raz [Erazo] is a great pitcher, he’s helped us out a lot, we haven’t really had to score a lot of runs for him, but it’s always good to pitch ahead by a couple runs.”

Estrella has history with Fountain Hills in the playoffs, having played them in the state quarterfinals in 2008. The Wolves lost that game, 6-2.

Should Estrella win, it would play at 7 p.m. Saturday at Surprise Stadium in the championship game.

Casey Pritchard can be reached by email at





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