Reliever Cameron Mathis and his Cedar Crest teammates could have easily packed it in after the sixth inning of Tuesday's game at Palmyra Area High School.
The Cougars held a grand-slam fueled 5-2 lead and were three outs from knocking off the reigning Lancaster-Lebanon League champions.
For Mathis, the junior had just been laced in the right leg by a line drive, a ball he stuck with to retire Palmyra's speedy leadoff hitter Dom Faiola for the third out. He proceeded to limp off the field, grimacing in pain - fully expecting to be needed for another frame.
"I knew it wasn't over, not after last year, we've made bigger comebacks than that," Mathis said.
Five Falcon runs later, the southpaw hobbled back out to the bump, setting down the meaty part of Palmyra's order to close out an improbable 7-5 comeback.
"It got all black and blue, turned a little purple," Mathis said matter-of-factly about his right knee, wrapped in ice. "It hurt a little while I was warming up, but it was fine."
Almost as fine as Crest's top half of the seventh. The visitors sent 11 batters to the plate, crossing five of them on five hits, two walks and a couple of inches.
"We might not play great all the time, but we're going to use up every out," proud Falcon manager Chris Groff said. "You're going to have to stop us every night, our guys
Anchored by starting pitcher Tyler Morder's five-inning, two-hit, one-run performance, Palmyra appeared to be headed to victory. Add in Nick Slobozien's game-changing 340-foot bases-loaded bomb in the fifth, and it looked to be a lock.
"In high-school ball you never think that way. I don't care if you're up by 10 runs, I've seen too many things all these years," Palmyra boss Tim Gingrich said.
It all started with Crest's 9-hole hitter, Mike Wealand, who worked a full-count walk off Palmyra reliever Mitch Sauley to start the seventh. Consecutive base knocks by Daulton Ritter, Galen Rader (3-for-4, two doubles) and Zach Smith made the score 5-4 with no outs. Sauley then struck out cleanup hitter Zach Hostetter looking, but issued Collin Miller another walk to load the bases.
From there, Garrett Getz ripped a single up the middle, inches from going in the glove of Sauley, and centimeters from a spectacular force-out attempt by Mike Fuhrman (2-for-3, two doubles) at second base. Instead, Rader touched home to tie it 5-5 and the bases remained loaded with one down.
Next up, DH Logan Fullmer delivered a mid-to-shallow lazy flyball to right-center field. Groff, coaching third base, gave Smith, tagging up, the green light to head home.
"We came all the way back. When you come all the way back, what do you have to lose?" Groff asked rhetorically. "Except just stay aggressive, and make them make a play. It was a heck of a slide at the plate.
"Isn't it (longtime Atlanta Braves manager) Bobby Cox that said, 'If you're not getting thrown out at home plate, you're not trying?'"
Charging hard, center fielder Preston Bare gloved the ball, firing a one-hopper to waiting catcher Colby Conway. The throw was slightly to the first-base side, but in one swift motion, the senior backstop reached to his right to retrieve it, swiping back left to the plate. Too late, Smith slid in under the tag to give the Falcons the go-ahead run.
Brady Galbraith kept the inning alive for the visitors with an RBI double. Still in, Sauley walked Wealand for the second time in the stanza, before Slobozien came on to strike out Ritter to stop the bleeding.
"We gave it to them in a sense, we just didn't make any plays when we had to," added Gingrich, who had four errors from his infield, which was missing starting shortstop Graham Speece. "We needed somebody to step up and make a play. It's just like my coach was saying in (the dugout), 'It's not who's willing, it's who's going to make the play.'
"They're a great team, but if you do stuff we did tonight, good teams are going to beat you that
Virginia Commonwealth recruit Dan Black started for the Falcons (2-0 overall), throwing five solid innings, except for the one pitch to Slobozien. Mathis picked up the win, striking out three in two innings of relief.
"Cameron came in and did a fantastic job today. It swelled up but he still wanted to finish," Groff said. "That's the sign of a kid who's ready, it's his time now for him to have a great year for us."
For Palmyra (2-1 overall, 1-0 Mid-Penn Keystone), it was the type of game that can make or break a season.
"We can go two ways - we can go in the tank because we're playing our archrival (Lower Dauphin tonight), or we can come out swinging and see what we can do," Gingrich explained. "That's all we can do."