After Liberty closed out Fresno-Central 9-4 on Tuesday at home in a first-round Central Section baseball playoff game, Patriots coach Tony Mills had a question for his club.
"Fellas?" he asked, with his team surrounding him on the outfield grass. "Why not us? Can somebody tell me me a reason why we couldn't win the whole thing?"
Nobody spoke up. Later, Christian Sinnott, who threw a complete game and added a huge two-run single at the plate, gave an explantion.
"We feel like we can go all the way," he said. "We have the talent. We just have to get it done."
There is the not-so-small matter of winning three more games, very likely with all three on the road against higher-seeded opponents. That obstacle course starts with Thursday's quarterfinal at No. 2 seed Fresno-Bullard, a team ranked in the top 100 nationally by ESPN Rise.
"They're an exceptional ballclub," Mills said. "It's a tough road. But we're going to show up."
And Sinnott wasn't off base. Liberty (19-10) has power throughout its lineup -- No. 8 hitter Kody Wright opened the scoring with a two-run home run in the second -- plays solid defense and has three pitchers Mills isn't afraid to rely on in the clutch.
That starts with Sinnott (9-2). What was once a 5-2 Liberty lead had shriveled to 5-4 after Kyle Ciolkosz's double in the top of the sixth inning, but a flyout and a pop-up ended the threat there.
"I kept a pretty strict pitch count on Sinnott all year long so we could lean on him when it counted. I could see in his eyes today he wanted to get it done."
Then Sinnott sparked a rally for some important insurance when he was hit with a pitch with one out in the bottom of the sixth. A.J. Jackopin singled, Tyler Raper walked to load the bases, and singles from Kaidan Meadows and Jared Solf plated three runs. Suddenly a close game was a comfortable one.
"That made me feel relieved," said Sinnott, who retired Central 1-2-3 in the seventh. "I could just go out there and play catch after that."
After Wright's home run, Central (15-15) tied the game with runs in the third and fourth, the latter coming on an Anders Nelson solo homer.
But Liberty answered immediately, scoring three runs after a crucial Central error.
"You can't give teams extra outs," Central coach Brad Fontes said. "They were tough, they competed at the plate, but you just can't do that."
After Solf singled to lead off the inning, Josh Medina bounced into a tailor-made double play. But Grizzlies shortstop Danny Sandoval threw the ball wide of second and into right field, allowing Solf to go to third with no outs. Russ Puskraich singled him home, and Sinnott added a two-run single to make it 5-2 later in the inning.
"That's what a good team will do when they get a mistake like that," Mills said. "Capitalize and score some runs."
And make no mistake: Liberty sees itself as a championship-caliber team.
The Patriots finished 9-6 to tie for third in the rugged Southwest Yosemite League, but they also have won seven of nine and see bigger things ahead.
"The bottom line is, in the last 14 ballgames, we've been playing exceptional baseball," Mills said. "We've pitched well, we've played good defense, we've swung the bats. We've been very consistent, and when you're consistent, you give yourself a chance."