Stockdale boys basketball coach Oliver Brown read his players "The Little Engine That Could" children's story before they took on Independence on Thursday, but by the time the night was over, it was apparent Stockdale was playing against the Little Engine.
Independence hustled and flustered its way to yet another win, a 63-51 decision on its home court that clinched a sweep of the season series with Stockdale and all but decided the Southwest Yosemite League race in favor of the Falcons (24-1, 6-0 SWYL).
"They're so deep, and the way they play wears on you physically and mentally," Brown said.
That means one mental lapse can result in a big run the other way. Independence ended the first quarter on a 10-0 run to take a seven-point lead -- and then did it again to end the third quarter to stretch the lead to 12.
Both runs started with Stockdale turnovers, which the Falcons turned into points.
The Mustangs were hastened into 28 turnovers in all.
"We just play defense, and then pass the ball and share the ball," said IHS guard D.J. Reed, who scored 15 points. "100 percent of what we do is turnovers. That's what the coaches are always telling us."
Independence also had a flair for the dramatic. The Falcons ended each of the first three quarters with buzzer beaters. The first two came from Reed, who hit a 3-pointer to end the first and a teardrop floater before halftime; the third was a running, straightaway, 25-foot 3-pointer by Derek Check that ended the third quarter and gave Independence its biggest lead.
"That's a huge momentum builder," Reed said. "You just have to keep your eyes on the clock, shoot the ball and always be confident that it's going in."
Isaac Clark also had 15 points for Independence. Isaiah Henderson scored 11 points and Check had 10.
"In my mind, they're almost even 2 through 8," Brown said. "Clark is their guy, but after that, it almost doesn't matter who's in there. All of those guys can play."
Stockdale (16-4, 4-2) tied the game at 25 late in the second quarter and again at 32 early in the third. But the Mustangs never took the lead again after Independence's first-quarter run. The Mustangs forced 22 turnovers, but were unable to make Independence pay.
"Everything was contested for both teams," Independence coach Stan Davis said. "We'd make a great deflection, a hustle play, and then we couldn't come up with a loose ball because they play just as tough.
"We try to make our practices harder than our games, but it's very difficult to simulate Stockdale's talent."
Chris Ross had 16 points, and Keith McCants and Alex Willams 14 each for Stockdale, which now must sweep its final four games and hope Independence loses two to have a shot at a league title.
Considering Independence has lost just once, that seems rather unlikely. "I'm just really, really proud of them," Falcons coach Stan Davis said of his players. "This wasn't an easy game, but we wanted it badly. We've created a situation where we're the team to beat, and we don't want to give it back."