With his team's chances in Wednesday's baseball game dwindling and its lead in the Southwest Yosemite League slipping away, Liberty coach Tony Mills gave his team a most hopeful message before the seventh inning:
Maybe, just maybe, lightning can strike twice.
And then, wonder of wonders, it did: For the second time in three years, the Patriots staged a huge rally to stun Stockdale, this time 8-7 on the strength of six runs all scored with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"We were in the same predicament a couple of years ago, I told them, and the same thing happened," said Mills, whose team scored seven seventh-inning runs to beat Stockdale 7-6 at home in 2011.
This time, Josh Medina led off the inning with a seemingly innocuous single. But Stockdale committed an error on a possible double-play ball, and then Christian Sinnott singled to load the bases.
"We just kept competing," said senior pitcher Kaidan Meadows, who wound up with the win.
"Things weren't going our way for most of the game, but we all still wanted it and still believed."
When Stockdale starter Max Carter hit Meadows with a pitch and walked Tyson Brewer to force in two runs, Mustangs coach Dan Lemon relieved him with Jamie Carroll. But Carroll had trouble throwing strikes, too, and he walked in two runs before Jassen Oliver tied the game with a seeing-eye single to left.
The next pitch was wild, and pinch-runner Justin Nieto raced home with the most improbable of victories.
"You've got to get to 21 outs," Lemon said. "You can't give free passes to a good team like that. (The Patriots) never gave up, and we just couldn't throw strikes in that seventh inning. Everything was going good, and I think we started thinking about the outcome too much. We should have stuck with the process."
The victory allows Liberty (17-8, 7-3 SWYL) to maintain sole possession of first place in the SWYL. Coming into the day, Stockdale, Centennial and Bakersfield all trailed by one game. Of those second-place teams, only Centennial won.
Of course, the Patriots' work is far from over -- and it starts Friday with a return trip to what will surely be a Stockdale team eager for payback.
"This stings," Lemon said, "so let's see how we respond. We've got a bunch of high-character kids, and we expect to come back and compete Friday."
For six and a half innings Wednesday, the Mustangs (12-10, 5-5) were in control. Carter struck out six and worked his way around trouble in the first six innings -- allowing only a two-run homer to Meadows in the third.
Carter himself hit a double and a home run at the plate, and Josh Stone, Junior Felix and Nick Parke all had RBI hits as Stockdale built a 7-2 lead.
"You've got to tip your cap to Max Carter," Mills said. He pitched a great game. He pitched oustanding."
But for Stockdale, the finishing touches weren't there.
"Once we got going and got that tying run on second, I knew we were gonna get it," Meadows said. "It's a great feeling."