The fly ball off the bat of Sam Richardson screamed down the right-field line and landed just fair, allowing the Stockdale junior to leg out a triple in the bottom of the seventh inning.
In a tie ballgame — the first of two crucial Southwest Yosemite League contests for the Mustangs this week against Frontier — the ball could have easily landed foul, and Richardson would have trotted back to home plate to finish the at-bat.
Instead he was on third and, two batters later, scored on a Jordan Neal sacrifice fly. The sequence granted the Mustangs a 2-1 walk-off win over the Titans at home on Wednesday.
All the while, It didn't go unnoticed that it had been just three days since the funeral for Will Smith. The 53-year-old Smith was a fixture at Stockdale games during the four-year standout varsity career for his son, Jalen, who graduated last season and is now playing second base at UC Davis.
Something else was at play during that hit for Richardson, and everyone felt it.
“This program has had a tough week-and-a-half,” Stockdale coach Brad Showers said while holding back tears. “Will is as close to a Stockdale Mustang parent can be. He was Mr. Stockdale Mustang. We got to know him for five years. He was a part of this family and it’s been rough on us all.
“We maybe had a little Will Smith intervention there … That wasn’t a coincidence.”
Richardson said he was laser focused as the ball sailed into right field. When it landed, he put his head down and booked it to third, but knew there might be a higher power that kept that ball from landing foul.
“I was watching it all the way. I was thinking, ‘Please. Please just stay fair,’” Richardson said. “Will had everything to do with that hit right there, I am telling you. That ball, I think Will pushed it fair. He kept it fair.”
There was a moment of silence for Smith before first pitch and his initials were written in chalk behind home plate.
The win keeps Stockdale (13-10, 7-5) in the running for a shot at the SWYL title with three games left. The Mustangs trail Liberty by two games in the league standings.
The win was also big for Stockdale after the Mustangs were on the losing end of six one-run games. Those nail biters included a heart-breaker on April 15 to Clovis-Buchanan, the top-ranked team in the Central Section and the fifth-ranked team in California, according to Cal-Hi Sports.
The loss to Buchanan happened just hours after Smith died from a heart attack.
“This program has been through a lot with the adversity of the game and the adversity of losing a family member of the program,” Showers said. “We persevered and got a win.”
Both starting pitchers were sterling.
Frontier senior Austin Puskaric, headed to Cal State Bakersfield next season on scholarship, pitched five scoreless innings before walking his counterpart Brady Salyards with the bases loaded in the bottom of the sixth. That was the lone run given up by the senior right-hander, and tied the score 1-1.
Frontier (15-10, 6-6) got on the board in the top of the sixth inning, when Brock Calvillo doubled and eventually scored on a passed ball.
It was the lone run yielded by Salyards during a complete game, five-hit performance. He also struck out five batters, including three strikeouts in the seventh inning.
“This is a really big win,” Salyards said. “I give all the credit to my defense. I pitch and they played catch. This is a good win for us.”
The defense for both teams came up clutch.
In the top of the fifth, Neal caught a line drive off the bat of Brennen Fleischer and threw out Nash Page at first after Page was running on the pitch.
In the bottom half of the fifth, Puskaric snared a line drive on the mound and doubled up Korey Likens at second to end the stanza.
“This was an incredible game,” Showers said.