Given that five of the six baseball teams in the Elmore County area made it to the state playoffs in 2021 with three winning area championships and two advancing through multiple playoff series, there was a litany of options for Coach of the Year in the county.
But after an improbable run to the AHSAA baseball Elite Eight led by a true ensemble cast of players, The Wetumpka Herald’s choice for the honor goes to Holtville head coach Scott Tubbs.
“You don’t win an award like coach of the year without incredible players and incredible coaches around you,” Tubbs said. “It really is a team award.”
For the Bulldogs to come within one victory of a state final four appearance was nothing short of miraculous.
Nearly every athletic team was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but few spring sports teams had to navigate the turmoil of their lost 2020 season with a new head coach and a new class to compete in.
Such was the case for Holtville. 2021 was Tubbs’ first year with the squad, which moved up from Alabama Class 4A to Class 5A for an elevated level of playoff difficulty.
“A lot of our success was just kids buying into what we were trying to do,” Tubbs said. “It wasn’t easy at the beginning of the year, in terms of them understanding what I wanted them to do and trying to break some old habits. But they started to buy in, and then they started playing for each other.”
Piling on to the Bulldogs’ challenges was a lack of upperclassman leadership. Their roster included just two seniors in 2021, only one of which was an everyday player.
Tubbs said that was his team’s biggest obstacle, relying on freshmen and sophomores to guide the squad forward. It took time to resolve.
“I had a couple of tenth graders that would come to me and say, ‘Coach, I’m trying to lead, but nobody will listen because I’m in the tenth grade,’” Tubbs said. “That’s what we were battling. Nobody really knew who to look to as a leader. As we started after spring break it started surfacing, who the leaders were, who would speak up.”
That’s when the playoff run began.
Holtville capped its 22-9 regular-season record with a 5-1 mark in area play, edging out Elmore County for an area championship via tiebreaker.
After defeating Sylacauga in game one of a best-of-three first-round playoff series, Holtville lost game two to bring up a decisive game three. The Bulldogs won a 7-6 battle in the elimination game.
They bounced back from a 1-0 game one loss with back-to-back victories to take their second-round series against Headland and advance to the Elite Eight.
Holtville responded again after losing a 5-0 lead to drop game one in its Elite Eight series against St. Paul’s Episcopal, forcing another series to game three. It was there that their season ended, however.
The Bulldogs won four total elimination contests before getting bounced by the Saints. They made it further in the playoffs than any other AHSAA team in the Elmore County area, and alongside AISA Class AA state runner-up Edgewood Academy, were the only area team to win multiple playoff series.
“I think a lot of it is that they just believe in each other,” Tubbs said after the team’s second-round playoff series victory. “They don’t know how to quit. I mean, that’s a positive thing with young guys sometimes, they’re gonna keep playing hard.”
Tubbs preached a philosophy of defense and pitching to his young team, and they responded with a team fielding percentage of .937 and ERA of 2.89.
The two fed into each other, with the pitching staff only having to strike out 6.96 batters per seven innings to obtain the sub-three ERA.
Left-handers Randy Davis and Todd Wilson each threw more than 70 innings on the mound and posted ERAs below 2.20 to lead the team’s efforts there.
Holtville didn’t have a qualified hitter bat above .330 on the season but did have five players above .300, with production coming from up and down its order. All nine everyday position players collected at least 12 RBIs.
“I knew it was gonna be a learning curve this year,” Tubbs said. “I told our coaches in February, if we could just make a decent run in the playoffs, we could be in way better shape next year. That was what our goal was. And we accomplished the goals that we put in front of us.”
All but one of Holtville’s starters from this past season can return in 2022.