Cochran realized then that his team was at a crossroads, and he wanted to make sure all the Huskies were going to be headed in the same direction. Mainly, he didn't want the disappointment of that night to cause future disappointing nights.
The Huskies had traveled to Mallard Creek with the I-Meck Conference regular season title there for the taking, but the Mavericks were the ones who took it — and took it to Hough — with an 11-5 win. The loss was also Hough's third straight.
"To lose it, especially the way we lost it, was pretty deflating," Cochran said following the final practice of the season Thursday.
So there, on a crowded and dark bus in the Hough parking lot, Cochran and a few of the Husky seniors led a team talk that included topics ranging from what had just occurred, to the team's current state and also to what the future potentially could hold. Collectively, they decided to just forget about that night's loss and focus on what was ahead, a new season, if you will.
"We realized we weren't done," said Cochran.
The Huskies exited the bus with their eyes looking forward, determined to make something happen in the postseason. Few, though, could have predicted what has transpired since.
Hough (23-10) caught fire in the conference tournament and has simply kept going and kept winning, including five times by one run. The Huskies have won night straight games, to be exact— including a fourth-round playoff game at Mallard Creek — and now find themselves in this weekend's 4A state final series in Durham. Game 1 of the best-of-three matchup against Apex Middle Creek (24-7) is set for Friday at 8 p.m. at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Cochran said his team is ready.
"For us, it's about not changing anything," he said. "It's a bigger stage, but it's still just a game. We just want to go up there and continue to do the things we've been doing."
The Huskies' postseason run has included many breakthrough moments, but Cochran notes two, in particular, as it pertains to building momentum.
The first was Hough's 1-0 win over Hopewell at UNC-Charlotte in the I-Meck tournament final May 7. A year after winning four conference games and just days after missing out on the league's regular season title, Hough was alone on top in the I-Meck. And even though the Huskies' logo was inadvertently left off the tournament plaque, Hough had some hardware.
"It gave our guys something tangible from their success," said Cochran.
The second big moment Cochran points to is the Huskies' 3-2 road win at perennial power South Caldwell in the third round of the playoffs. Had the Huskies gone to Hudson and lost, the season still would have been considered a success and a tremendous turnaround. But Hough won, punched its ticket to keep playing and opened the door to make something really special happen.
"I think that gave our guys a lot of confidence moving forward, not that we didn't have it, but that was huge," said Cochran.
Now, three wins later, the Huskies are in the state final.
Husky fans could make a compelling case that Hough, in just its second year and with a senior class for the first time, is a team of destiny. The way things have occurred on the diamond, especially of late, would indicate there might be something to that theory.
But the state's East Region has a team that feels that way about itself, too.
Middle Creek, like West champion Hough, is riding the momentum bus to Durham as well, though the Mustangs have a much shorter commute.
Similar to Hough, the Mustangs have a lineup that produces offensively at every spot. Where Hough has ace pitcher Brandon Gragilla, who is 11-1 with an 1.04 ERA, Middle Creek counters with Jimmy Boyd, who is 7-1 with an ERA at 1.00. And just like Hough, the Mustangs are making their run a year after they failed to win a postseason game. Hough missed the playoffs in 2011, while Middle Creek lost in the first round.
Both teams, however, have found ways to put it all together this spring.
"I think we're very similar teams in a lot of ways," said Middle Creek coach Jeremy Thompson. "And I think both teams feel like they have a shot."
Middle Creek opened in 2002 — the year after Hopewell — but its athletic program has had little state-level team success. This is the baseball team's first state final appearance, and the Mustangs have made it despite losing seven starters to graduation last year.
Aside from his pitching performances, Boyd is Middle Creek's top hitter, too. He's hitting .450 with four home runs and 30 RBIs. When he's not pitching, he is the Mustangs' designated hitter.
First baseman Johnny Piedmonte leads Hough's offense with a .412 average, five home runs, eight doubles and 23 RBI.
Game 2 of the state series is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at the same site. Game 3, if necessary, would follow at either 5 or 8 p.m. Saturday's action will not only conclude the baseball season, but the entire NCHSAA calendar.
"To be one of eight teams in North Carolina to be playing, in all classifications, is certainly something special," said Cochran.
The road to Durham
Hough (23-10, I-Meck #2)
Hough 2, Porter Ridge 1
Hough 2, Mooresville 1
Hough 3, South Caldwell 2
Hough 4, Mallard Creek 2
*Hough 2, East Forsyth 1
*Hough 4, East Forsyth 1
Middle Creek (24-7, Tri-Nine #2)
Middle Creek 9, Sanderson 2
Middle Creek 10, Wake Forest-Rolesville 0
Middle Creek 4, Fuquay-Varina 2
Middle Creek 4, Millbrook 3
*Middle Creek 7, Richmond County 0
*Richmond County 6, Middle Creek 2
*Middle Creek 8, Richmond County 2
*Best-of-three regional series