Ask any Hollywood writer to produce a better ending and they would be hard-pressed to write anything more dramatic than the two-pronged plot twist that brought such an improbable ending to Stanford's 4-3 victory over Pac-12 champion California in the Round of 16 at the NCAA women's team tennis tournament in Georgia on Thursday.
No. 11 Stanford's highly-touted freshman trio of Taylor Davidson, Caroline Doyle and Carol Zhao cruised through the regular season, chalking up a combined 78-17 record in singles play.
But how would they perform come tournament time, when the stakes are significantly higher and the pressure amplified?
On Thursday, that question was answered.
Doyle's thrilling 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (0) victory at the sixth singles spot propelled Stanford to an edge-of-the-seat decision over the sixth-seeded Bears in Atlanta, the latest chapter in a recent series of memorable postseason comebacks for the NCAA defending champions.
The only time Stanford held the lead over Cal was when Doyle's deep shot was returned into the net to complete her comeback victory.
"There were a lot of moments it didn't look very good at the end there, but it was one of those see-saw matches," Stanford coach Lele Forood said. "We were down 1-0 from the doubles, they totally outplayed us, but we had good starts in the singles. We won a lot of first sets so I started to feel pretty good about where we were sitting in the match."
The Cardinal (19-2) meets No. 3 Virginia (24-5) in the quarterfinal round at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The Cavaliers, who have not been shutout this season, advanced to their first-ever quarterfinal round. They have won six straight and 15 of 16 overall. All five of their losses have been to teams ranked among the top 15.
California, which had its 14-match winning streak snapped, beat the Cardinal, 6-1, on April 19 to finish the conference season undefeated and win its first ever Pac-12 title.
The last team to beat the Bears before Thursday? Stanford, of course.
"We came up against a team that was a little bit better today," Cal coach Amanda Augustus said. "We have a lot of respect for our conference and conference competitors and really feel they'll do well and go far. Credit to Stanford for a very hard-fought victory. It was well-fought by both sides."
At one point in the match, the Bears were holding a 3-2 lead, and both Taylor Davidson and Doyle were down in the third set.
Davidson, who lost twice to Cal sophomore Lynn Chi during the regular season, was further hindered by cramps and fatigue and moved sluggishly around the court.
She somehow managed to overcome her ailments to produce a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory to tie the score at 3-3.
Zhao required less theatrics in a dominating 6-2, 6-3 rout at the No. 3 position to give Stanford its first point.
"I saw Taylor fall on the court and I saw her on the ground and it wasn't looking too good," Doyle said. "I knew she was going to give it her all and wasn't going to default. It's awesome. I'm so proud of her that she came back and even ended up winning that third set while cramping. That just gave me a lot of confidence and I had to pull through for the team."
First Doyle had to overcome her own deficits. She fought back from a 5-3 hole and then saved three match points to tie the third set at 5-5.
"We came all the way out here to go far in the tournament and I was just trying to leave it all on the court," Doyle said. "Even if I ended up losing I just wanted to know that I gave it 100 percent. I ended up getting those points and securing the game."
California seized early control by capturing the doubles point and grabbing another quick result when Zsofi Susanyi beat Krista Hardebeck.
Conference matchups often become unavoidable in the postseason, and most national tennis pundits were hyping Thursday's tilt as the best round of 16 match.
The Pac-12 rivals faced an obstacle even before the match began, with overnight rain shifting the contest to Georgia Tech's indoor courts in Atlanta, approximately 90 minutes from Athens.
Stanford had played only one of its matches indoors this year (Colorado) while California had experience competing at the ITA National Team Indoor Championships, finishing 2-1.
California grabbed an early 1-0 lead, becoming only the third team to win the doubles point against Stanford this year.
But losing the doubles point isn't a deal-breaker for the Cardinal, which was in the same situation against Georgia in the quarterfinals of last year's NCAA title run.
In fact, over the last five years of NCAA Tournament play, Stanford is now 5-2 overall in matches when it loses the doubles point.
After Susanyi's victory gave the Golden Bears a 2-1 edge, Zhao responded with a 6-2, 6-3 rout of Schutting at the No. 3 spot.
It was a nice bounce-back for Zhao, whose 17-match winning streak was ended by Schutting in a rare loss last month in Cal's 6-1 win on The Farm.
Kristie Ahn knotted the match at 2-2 following a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Denise Starr at the No. 1 spot. Stanford's vocal leader and anchor at the top of the lineup, Ahn improved to 13-2 in her career against Cal opponents and 6-0 this season, with five of those victories coming against different Golden Bear players.
California moved in front 3-2 after Klara Fabikova defeated Ellen Tsay 6-4, 6-3 at the No. 5 spot.
That's when Davidson and Doyle started their comebacks. Davidson figured to be in a better spot after taking the first set while Doyle had dropped a first-set tiebreaker.
But momentum shifted once again, with Doyle evening her match with a 6-3 victory in the second set. Meanwhile, Davidson had just lost her second set 6-4, and was forced to take an injury timeout after battling cramps and fatigue.
Tied 2-2 in the third set, Davidson somehow appeared to be getting stronger despite her limited mobility. Pounding groundstrokes left and right, Davidson ran away from Chi, ripping off three straight games to break a 3-3 tie.
Over on court six, Doyle was locked in a battle with Megan Manasse. Entering Thursday's match, Doyle had played in only two three-setters all season, both coming against Manasse with each player winning on the other's home court.
Doyle trailed 5-3 and managed to shake off match point, knotting her match at 5-5 and then again at 6-6 after Manasse had briefly regained the lead.
The third-set tiebreaker was all Doyle, who proceeded to rattle off seven consecutive points before getting mobbed by her teammates.
A barrage on the back nine of Eugene Country Club put the Stanford men's golf team in the driver's seat of the NCAA Eugene Regional Championships Thursday.
Stanford's four scoring players combined to go 5-under after making the turn to give the Cardinal a 4-under 276 and four-stroke lead over second-place Oklahoma.
"We started a bit slow, but played the middle holes really well," Stanford coach Conrad Ray said. "The course was perfect and the greens were fast. Our guys need to understand that we need to stick to our game plan, and there is still a lot of golf left."
The 13-team field continues the three-day event Friday with live results available at GoStanford.com. The low five teams will advance to the NCAA Championships.
Clubhouse leader Patrick Rodgers was 4-under with six birdies, four coming on the back nine. Rodgers was 1-under heading into the back and added birdies on 10, 12, 13 and 14. He bogeyed the par-4 17th and punched in a par on 18 for his 66.
David Boote is tied for sixth after a 69 on the par-70 course. Boote was 2-over through eight but stormed back with four back-nine birdies.
"Patrick did a nice job leading us today, and it was nice to see Boote turn in a red number," Ray said.
Viraat Badhwar birdied three of the first five holes on the back nine to move to 2-under. A double bogey on 18 put him at even-par for a share of 11th. Cameron Wilson tied for 14th at 71.
Maverick McNealy was even on the back nine and signed a 73.