Stockdale already had clinched victory over Liberty in a key Southwest Yosemite League boys tennis match Tuesday, but Mustangs coach Dave Hillestad still cajoled his doubles teams that remained on the court, trying to coax every last point out of them.
It worked -- Stockdale swept the doubles en route to an 8-1 victory over host Liberty in a matchup of Kern County's top teams -- and later, Hillestad hammered home why those doubles matches, meaningless on the surface, were so important to him.
"If we're going to have a chance in the Valley playoffs, we have to be good at singles and doubles," he said. "We've had times this year where we've been good at one or the other, but we did an awfully good job of finishing matches today in both."
It's been a decade since a Kern County team won a Central Section Division I championship in boys tennis (it was Stockdale in 2004), and Hillestad would like to change that.
His Mustangs (10-5, 4-0 SWYL) have lost early matches to Clovis-Buchanan and Clovis West, but Tuesday was a step in the right direction.
"We knew Liberty would be a tough match, and we like playing them because we have to play our best tennis to win," he said.
That started with No. 1 player John Matthew Flores, who beat Liberty star Anthony Busacca in a tight singles match 6-1, 3-6, 10-4, then came back with Daniel Van Matre to beat Busacca and Stevie Lancaster in No. 1 doubles, 1-6, 7-5, 10-7.
"That singles match really swung momentum in our favor," Hillestad said. "Kids watch the scores on the other courts, and when he won that tiebreaker, it was a big relief to everybody."
In fact, Stockdale won the first set in all six singles matches, putting immediate pressure on Liberty (9-7, 3-1).
"We just didn't come on strong," Patriots coach Stephanie Ollivier said. "They took every first set, and that really puts you in a tough situation."
Of those six matches, only No. 4 player David Rodriguez was able to come back and win in a tiebreaker for Liberty. But the 5-1 lead meant Stockdale was guaranteed victory.
But both teams take pride in their doubles play, so when Liberty took early leads on all three courts, Hillestad paced nervously.
But while Flores and Van Matre came back at No. 1, Andrew Schwartz and Edward Ramirez quickly righted the ship for a 6-2, 6-3 victory at No. 2, and Shawn Bhogal-Matt Wells erased a 5-1 deficit for a 7-5, 6-2 victory at No. 3.
"Our doubles really stepped up, and I'm proud of that," Hillestad said.
Neither of these teams has been challenged by another SWYL team thus far, so their next meeting, April 10 at Stockdale, likely will decide the league title.
"The next time we'll be ready," Ollivier said. "We're definitely motivated to work hard after today."
Hillestad said he figured the return meeting will be difficult, but he's also got his eyes on a bigger prize.
"We have a ton of depth, and we're pretty strong all the way through, but it's not like we don't have a top guy, either," Hillestad said. "John Matthew has had tiebreakers with the No. 1 from Garces and Clovis North, so he's right there. We have the kind of team that can go a long way."