Sam Gelardi's spent the last 11 years kicking at the door of postseason success.
The longtime Sahuarita baseball coach is intimately familiar with the playoffs, coaching his team to the postseason in 10 of his 11 seasons.
Gelardi's won 181 games with the Mustangs, guiding the team to a regional championship this season, his fifth since taking over the program in 2007.
Yet, for all of Sahuarita's regular season success, they have yet to kick down the final barrier — winning a state championship.
The Mustangs have come painstakingly close to doing so in each of the last two seasons, falling 9-7 to Yuma's San Luis High School and 4-0 on Friday to Phoenix's Northwest Christian High School.
Gelardi doesn't fret his team's postseason fortune. He knows all too well how finicky the postseason can be.
"I think it all comes down to how much work you put in during the offseason, and after that," Gelardi says. "If you succeed in the playoffs you have to have a heck of a lot of luck and the match-ups have to go your way. You have to stick to the process. The results might not have been what you wanted, but you have to be satisfied with your work, knowing you'll eventually break through."
Gelardi's optimism has a lot to do with the bounty he'll have back next year, with the team returning eight of its starting nine in 2018.
The veteran skipper is the first to say that this year's club blew past any of his expectations coming into the spring, after losing seven starters from the 2016 team.
"Having to replace so many guys was tough to overcome," Gelardi says. "A lot of guys overachieved. Look at guys like Gerry Lerma, who went 9-0 for us this year. That's a heck of a year."
Gelardi is confident next year's club will have what it takes to dominate, with experienced pitchers like Ian Mejia, Angel Ortiz, Jose Dicochea and Chris Barraza leading the rotation.
The group of pitchers, who Gelardi affectionately refers to as "The Six Pack,” will all return next spring, as will skilled hitters like Saul Escarrega, Trey Meza and Danny Valdez.
The combination of the Six Pack and a potent offensive attack has Gelardi licking his chops at the thought of the future.
"We've got a lot of good, young players coming through our program, so that's really exciting," Gelardi says. "So my takeaway from the season is that we're going to keep knocking on the door, and eventually we're going to push through it."
Mejia, who's gone 15-1 on the mound with a 2.17 ERA in three seasons with the Mustangs, also sees a sunny future for the team going forward.
"The bond this year's team shared was unreal and our coaches made everything click," Mejia says. "I expect to have the same sort of outcome because we're so young. I know that this season helped us mature and now we can go into next season with some experience."
Gelardi was in the crowd Saturday when longtime friend O.J. Favela Jr. coached the Nogales Apaches to its first state championship in 36 years.
He was visibly nervous in the game's opening inning, when the Salpointe Catholic Lancers loaded the bases and scored a run.
He and his wife, Kathleen, who were sitting directly behind the Apaches' dugout at game's start, quickly moved to the upper reaches of the right field bleachers — Gelardi said he didn't want to jinx Favela and company.
His diligence must have worked, as the Apaches stormed back in the bottom of the frame, scoring six runs en route to a 13-4 blowout over the Lancers.
The victory gave the Apaches its first state championship in 36 years, and Gelardi the confidence that patience pays off in the postseason to those who stay true to form.
"I'm so happy for O.J., he's the hardest working coach I know," Gelardi says. "It just shows how if you kick at the door hard enough that eventually you'll break through."
Christopher Boan | 547-9747