McALLEN Prior to the 2024 season, McAllen Memorial baseball hadn’t qualified for the playoffs in 12 years, hadn’t won a playoff series in 27 years and never advanced past the third round of the state playoffs in the school’s 44-year history.

Now the Mustangs, who have been on a magical run through the 2024 postseason, are two wins away from earning a spot at the UIL state baseball tournament.

McAllen Memorial (26-14) is set to square off against the Leander Rouse Raiders (33-9-1) in the Region IV-5A final with a berth to the state tourney on the line.

Game 1 of the best-of-three series between the Mustangs and Raiders is set for 7 p.m. today at North East Sports Park in San Antonio. The series will shift South for Games 2 and 3, if necessary, starting at 5 p.m. Saturday at Jourdanton High School in Jourdanton.

“‘Why Not Us?’ is the mentality we’ve had all season,” McAllen Memorial head coach Roque Cortinas said. “We talk about it, ‘We got nothing to lose. Nobody expects us to be here, so let’s go out there and have fun, and just play baseball.’”

McAllen Memorial’s RJ Rios (3) reacts as he leaves the pitchers mound to end the inning against Kerrville Tivy in a Region IV-5A Semifinal series playoff game 3 at Cabaniss Field on Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Corpus Christi. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

That loose mentality the Mustangs have played with has resulted in the school’s deepest postseason run in program history from a team nobody predicted would even make the playoffs.

“It’s been kind of easy with our mindset. People didn’t believe in us, we had nothing to lose just go in, play your heart out and leave everything on the field,” senior right fielder Jacob Sanchez said.

The Mustangs, who swept Brownsville Porter to open the playoffs, have had to grind out three-game series victories in Rounds 2-4 against Coastal bend power Corpus Christi Veterans, crosstown rival McAllen High and most recently Kerrville Tivy, which eliminated the top-ranked team in the state, Boerne-Champion, just a week before Memorial ended Tivy’s season in last weekend’s regional semifinal series.

McAllen Memorial David An (19) pitches against Kerrville Tivy in a Region IV-5A Semifinal series 1 playoff game at Cabaniss Field on Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Corpus Christi. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The Mustangs are working together to find ways to win. It hasn’t been one player or even a handful, it’s been the entire team doing whatever’s needed whenever their number is called.

“I think everyone has worked as a team. Nobody is playing selfish right now,” junior left-handed pitcher David An said.“Everyone’s putting the team first, and everyone is benefiting the team somehow, someway.”

From playing a position they haven’t all year, pinch-running in a big moment, stepping on to the mound to keep the fight going for a few more innings or making their varsity debut in a playoff game, the Mustangs have answered the bell time and time again this postseason.

McAllen Memorial’s Jose Rivera ,left, celebrates a walk-off RBI single against McAllen High during Game 3 of a Region IV-5A quarterfinal at McAllen Memorial baseball field on Saturday, May 18, 2024 in McAllen. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

“We’ve thrown guys that haven’t thrown much all year long, and they’ve come in and won playoff games for us. It’s theplayoffs we don’t know what’s going to happen we’re short-handed at the end of two games and you have to come inand do whatever’s asked, and you have to step up,” Cortinas said. “It’s just about being prepared. Preparation breeds confidence, and if you’re prepared there’s no reason we can’t throw you out there to get the job done.”

Now, the Mustangs meet a Leander Rouse team that is no stranger to the fifth round of the state playoffs.

McAllen Memorial’s Daniel Flores (17) celebrates his run to homeplate against Kerrville Tivy in a Region IV-5A Semifinal series playoff game 2 at Cabaniss Field on Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Corpus Christi. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The Raiders will be making their third regional final appearance during the past four seasons and reached the statetournament in 2021. Rouse enters Round 5 as the eighth-ranked team in Class 5A, according to the Texas High SchoolBaseball Coaches Association poll.

“We tell the boys, ‘We all practice the same, we all have the same opportunity baseball is baseball,’” Cortinas said. “They have experience and have been there before, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be there. We’re kind of going into itlike we have in every other series I think we were underdogs against Corpus Christi Vets. Tivy had beaten Boerne-Champion, which was the No. 1 team in the state. Once you get to this point, a lot of it is on the mental part of it. We’re going in there, we don’t know much about them, but we feel if we can go and play Mustangs baseball like we’ve been doing, hard-nosed baseball, it kind of takes care of itself in the end.”

McAllen Memorial’s Erik Serrano (23) kisses his chain as he crosses home plate during a walk for the win against Kerrville Tivy in a Region IV-5A Semifinal series playoff game 3 at Cabaniss Field on Saturday, May 25, 2024, in Corpus Christi. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

While Memorial will be the underdog on paper, it’s a role the Mustangs have embraced during their historic playoff run, and they’re not done yet.

“Who doesn’t like an underdog story?” senior catcher Lukas Cabrera said.