PORT ST. LUCIE — The starting pitcher's eyes hid behind the straight bill of his cap. The senior captain's face was buried into a towel that held his tears.
King's first trip to the state tournament in 46 years was an emotional one. The Lions rode emotion to Digital Domain Park — the way their dugout cheered, the way 35-year coaching veteran Jim Macaluso jumped onto his players' shoulders like a kid, the way Javaris Reynolds sprinted around the bases after a home run, the way pitchers Devin Smith and Brandon Caples put holes in bats and the way senior captains Josciel Veras and Kory Sullivan made diving plays like their careers were on the line.
The Lions might have surprised people this season, and they made you believe in underdogs — but more than that, they showed they were a pretty good team.
Ten days between Monday's Class 5A semifinal and King's region final win allowed the hype to build. But facing a Pace team ranked No. 2 in the nation by ESPNRise and No. 3 by USA Today and MaxPreps, the air came out of the Lions' balloon instantly.
Pace's five-run first inning was like a punch to the gut. King survived to this point keeping scoring down, and it couldn't do that against a talent-laden Patriots lineup, the Lions' season ending with an 11-1 six-inning loss.
"We had a week to build and build and build to this thing," Macaluso said. "We were really sky high, and I think the worst thing you want to happen is get hit with a five spot. You're so excited about being here and now it's almost over really."
Pace scored all five first-inning runs with two outs, sending 10 batters to the plate off Smith. It was an inning the Lions (19-11) thought they should have emerged from unscathed. With runners at the corners and two outs, Smith had a runner picked off between first and second, but became preoccupied with the runner at third and couldn't complete the play. Pace then tallied four hits and two walks to go ahead.
"Once they got those five runs in the first, I saw a little doubt in ourselves," said Smith, who entered the game having won his past four decisions and had a 1.66 ERA in two region wins. "All the cheering we do (in the dugout), it decreased a little bit from that five-run inning. We really couldn't hear ourselves anymore."
Pace (28-2), a glorified high school travel ball team that played 10 games against teams from five out-of-state schools, pecked away after that. The Patriots scored a run in each of the next four innings until ending it in the bottom of the sixth with two runs.
King managed just three hits, and Sullivan scored the Lions' only run in the third on Sinjin Sato's RBI ground out.
After the game, Veras, the team's leading hitter and a senior co-captain, sobbed into a towel. At one point Smith, a junior, put his arm around him in the postgame interview session.
"It's very disappointing," Veras said, sniffling while trying to find his words. "We had a great year but we didn't finish our goal."
Shorecrest is the epitome of a small-ball team.
The Chargers score by doing little things — bunt, steal, hit-and-run, advance runners with productive outs.
So it was with great joy that the Chargers found out rain delayed Monday's Class 2A semifinal against Jay by 1½ hours. Shorecrest knew it could take advantage of a wet field by making Royals fielders work that much harder to get outs.
In the first inning, everything played out perfectly. Shorecrest scored four runs off six hits, five of which were singles. There was one sacrifice bunt and one steal.
It was just enough for the Chargers, who held on for a 5-3 victory. Shorecrest (23-8) reached today's final at 4 p.m. against Miami Westminster Christian. Westminster was the team the Chargers faced — and beat — for their last state title in 1989.