The Cowboys clung to the slim lead as the opposition kept scoring. What started as a comfortable six-run, sixth-inning lead had become a 7-6 nailbiter.
"I was getting the ball up and they were starting to hit me," Gaither starter Caleb Graham said. "But I was just focusing on the next hitter and trying not to get nervous."
If Graham wasn't feeling jittery, it might be because the Cowboys had seen it before.
Gaither nearly blew a eight-run lead in the seventh inning against Clermont East Ridge in the region semifinals. East Ridge cut the lead to 10-9 and had the bases loaded with two out before a fly out to the warning track ended the rally.
But Wednesday was for a shot to play in the state final.
"I looked at the guys in the dugout and I could see in their faces that they were thinking, "Oh no, not again'," Gaither coach Frank Permuy said. "The guys on the field were playing so they didn't feel the pressure as much but the dugout did."
Cape Coral Mariner loaded the bases with two outs and the tying run stood 90 feet away. The Cowboys needed their senior ace more than ever to advance. Graham was approaching 100 pitches and had lost some steam on his fastball.
"I knew it was here or never," Graham said.
Changeup. Curveball. Fastball. Strike three.
Graham then retired the side in order in the seventh and Gaither could finally breathe. Just like against East Ridge, the Cowboys bent but did not break and reached the final for the first time in school history.
Finally, something the Cowboys haven't seen before.