DUNEDIN — They fought and clawed and by golly, almost pulled it off.
Not bad for a team that wasn't even supposed to be here.
Dunedin's reign as Class 5A state champions will end in a few days as it fell short in attempting to defend its title in a 6-3 loss to Jesuit at the Englebert Complex.
The Falcons (21-7) lost eight of nine starters from last year's championship team but managed to win the Pinellas County Athletic Conference and district titles.
"Not bad," Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert said. "Our seniors really made sure this wasn't the year we got bounced. I don't know if there's any athletes in any sport in the county that can say they won four PCAC titles, four district titles and a state title like (Todd Haskel and Ryan Reedy) can."
The Tigers (26-2) were ranked No. 1 in the country for much of the season but had dropped two of four — and squeaked by teams with losing records in both wins — coming into the regional playoffs. With 10 straight wins, Dunedin was the hotter team.
But the Falcons could not capitalize on Jesuit starter Daniel Gibson's mistakes, squandering a number of chances to climb back in it after the Tigers took a 4-0 lead in the first off ace Alex Norris.
"That first inning I made my pitches, and they did their jobs," Norris said, referring to three straight two-out RBI hits.
Haskel singled in a run in the third, but the Falcons were caught trying for an extra base after a misplayed popup.
In the fourth, Gibson got out of a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout. In the sixth, Alex Libby and Jordan Savinon singled with one out, but Gibson got two strikeouts to end the inning.