TAMPA — There was the time seven years ago when King stranded the winning run 90 feet away on this very field. And back in 1987, when a team buoyed by future major leaguer Derek Bell ran out of luck two games short.
During his program's finest moment in nearly a half century, King baseball coach Jim Macaluso replayed the close calls. They were always close to making the state tournament, always one play away.
"We've knocked on the door but we were just never able to get it done," Macaluso said.
So it was fitting that on King's home field, the Lions finally broke through Friday night.
"They're playing with so much confidence and so much heart," Macaluso said.
Throughout the Class 5A region tournament, King lived in a pressure cooker. Following the Lions this postseason has not been for the faint of heart.
King tested defeat yet again in Friday's region final against Seminole, but the Lions' pitching proved too strong as King earned its first state tournament berth since 1964 with a teeth-gritting 2-1 victory over the Warhawks.
Macaluso was lifted on the shoulders of his players, then doused with Gatorade. After 35 years of waiting for his first state tournament, the longtime King coach is a rookie again.
And his players huddled into a circle, region trophy in tow, chanting the mantra they embraced after their sudden boost in confidence since last month's Saladino tournament.
"It's doable," yelled winning pitcher Devin Smith.
Doable indeed. The Lions managed just five hits, but manufactured two runs early with a combination of small ball and slap singles. Javaris Reynolds scored on a Keon Barnum sac fly in the first inning, then pinch runner Devon Pedro scored Brett Morales' RBI single in the second.
And Smith set the tone with another stellar postseason start, allowing just one run on four hits over 5 2/3 innings.
"We played a hell of a game," Smith said. "I was so focused this game. I told myself I could do it. All I was thinking about all week was this game."
The Lions (19-10), who have allowed just four runs in three region tournament games, tested the limits against the Warhawks (24-6). King stranded the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings.
"This was extreme competition," said Karlton Knapp, King's former No. 1 starter turned closer. "I'd rather have these games than have blowouts. It wouldn't be half as exciting."