Is anybody surprised by the Hubbard Jags baseball team any more?
They shouldn't be.
The Jags are marching through the Class A playoffs with confidence, solid pitching, great defense, timely hitting and a drive all their own -- a drive that's fueled by a strong bond and togetherness.
They have made it to the Class A Region II Championship game, and they arrived together -- one heartbeat, one team.
"What a great team performance last night," said Hubbard coach Jordan Grimm Saturday morning, praising this group of Jags, who beat Abbott 12-1 to sweep the best-of-three Region II Semifinals.
They will play Dodd City in a best-of three series, beginning Thursday and continuing Saturday at a time and site to be determined. The winner moves on to the state semifinals in Round Rock.
The Jags are making their first appearance in the Region finals since 2003 with a team that turned its season around in the middle of district play when the players themselves were upset after a loss, and made their own demands to work harder and play better.
That voice of change came from the players -- the very kids who put the season on their shoulders and carried Hubbard to the brink of reaching the state tournament.
"We're two wins away," Grimm said.
The Jags (22-9) have now won 14 in a row. After the players pushed each other in the regular season, they went out and won their final eight games to win the district title. They have won six in a row in the playoffs, sweeping Blum (7-1, 7-0) in the bi-district round, sweeping Jonesboro (11-3, 25-1) and sweeping Abbott after staging an emotional comeback in Game 1 when the Jags trailed 9-2 in the fourth inning before storming back to beat Abbott 10-9 in the bottom of the eighth when MJ Ryman scored on a wild pitch.
Friday's game was a different story. JJ Johnson pitched a beauty, shutting down Abbott, striking out seven while allowing just one run on four hits over six innings. Shelby Noppeney pitched a hitless seventh to nail down the victory.
Noppeney, a slick-fielding shortstop, was also a big part of Hubbard's defense that had Grimm beaming afterward and praising his team's glovework.
"We played unbelievably on defense," he said. "Sebastian Olvera (third base), Shelby Noppeney (short), Joseph Green (second base) and River Milne (first base) all played great defense. When we play defense like that we can beat anybody."
The Jags were led at the plate by the top of the order as Johnson, Hubbard's leadoff man, and Blaine Cornelius ignited the lineup.
"They set the tone. JJ went 3-for-3 and reached base five times, and Blaine went 3-for-4 with a sacrifice bunt and drove in two runs." Grimm said. "River Milne drove in three runs on two hits. And Caleb Poston, our center fielder and No. 9 hitter, went 1-for-4 and drove in two runs. He drove in four runs in the series.
"Everyone had a hand in the win," he said. "Congrats to the Pack and coach (Kyle) Crawford on a great season with a young team. Hope to see them in the same spot next year."