Two Southern Brazoria County softball teams ended their seasons at the state tournament in Austin this year.
First-year Danbury head coach Matthew Bowles led his team to the state semifinals while 10-year Angleton head coach Cindy Rubio led the Ladycats to their first state championship since 1994.
For those accomplishments, the two shared The Facts Southern Brazoria All-County coach of the year honors.
Making the state tournament as a head coach is an accomplishment in itself. Winning it all was something Rubio had wanted to experience ever since the Ladycats lost in the semifinals in 2016.
“At first, it was a little bit overwhelming because it had been 25 years since a state championship had been in Angleton and I think the moment when we finally did it, because it had been right there at our fingertips and to finally be able to take it, it was just pretty overwhelming, a lot of excitement,” Rubio said. “There were so many emotions, you can’t even describe it. It is an awesome feeling. It is just a great moment.”
With a team loaded with talent and several players who will continue their careers in college, Rubio knew early on this team had what it took to break the 25-year drought between state championships for Angleton softball.
In her 10 seasons leading the Ladycats, Rubio has seen different players and different teams come through. What made this one special and unique was its drive to win and be successful.
“They really don’t like to lose,” Rubio said. “When you go through the year and you only have two losses, I think it says a lot about them as a group, that they didn’t really like to lose.
“As a group, they were a close-knit group. They all got along. They always worked together. A lot of these girls have played together for a long time. I think that helps a lot in the realm of things, knowing each other, being able to play together, being able to pick each other up when needed, things like that.”
Now Rubio and the Ladycats will try to build on this year’s success. Many players who now have state championship game experience will return next season to try to duplicate this what this year’s team did.
“Once you get a taste, it is kind of hard to let go of it,” Rubio said. “We had that group of seniors that were part of the 2016 team and they knew what it was like to be so close and I think that was a big goal for them, to get back to that moment and take it. Now that it has been there for some of the younger kids, it is a feeling they want to get to again. They want to relive and be there for that moment again and work to get to that place again.”
Making the transition from baseball to softball coach was something Bowles had to do in a hurry. Despite having a baseball background, Danbury needed a softball coach after Hayley Galloway left after one season.
“I have a lot of friends and mentors who I coached with in baseball earlier in my career and they have since gone to softball, kind of making the same transition that I made,” Bowles said. “The first thing I did was call them and they got me on the right path. It was definitely a learning experience I would say all the way through right about when we started district. I felt like I was starting to get a handle on it.
“It was definitely a learning experience early in the season. A lot of things are similar, but there are some big differences. The other thing that helped me through was having my wife as my assistant coach. There are no words to explain how much she meant to helping me get through this season.”
It didn’t hurt that Bowles had a talented team coming back, led by a senior class driven to make the state tournament after losing in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs the year before.
Several of the team’s seniors will play at the next level next year, a testament to just how good the District 24-3A and Region III-3A champions were.
“My best memories were just to see how well the girls worked together to achieve what they wanted to achieve,” Bowles said. “It wasn’t easy to get as far as we got. There are usually some things that happen here or there, but our kids really pulled it together in the playoffs. It really helped us get to where we wanted to go.
“A lot of our seniors were talking about wanting to get to the state tournament before the season started and we were able to achieve that goal so I was very happy for them.”
The Lady Panthers made the state tournament for the first time since they lost in the semifinals in 2012.
Once there, they lost to Hallettsville, 12-2, in their first game, missing out an opportunity to play for their first state championship since 2011.
Bowles is already looking forward to next season. He will lose a few seniors, but has some players returning who will be seasoned veterans after the long playoff run and state tournament appearance.
“We have a bunch of really good juniors that are going to be seniors next year,” Bowles said. “Talking to a couple of them, they said that going through this experience of getting to state but not winning state, has made them feel like they need to start working hard now until the start of the season so that they can win state next year. They have a new goal and they are already starting to work for so that is exciting to think about.”