PORT ST. LUCIE — There were few words that could console the Armwood baseball team late Tuesday night.
Second-place silver medals draped from their necks, but these medals weren't the ones the Hawks sought when they made the trip to Port St. Lucie.
The Hawks entered Tuesday's Class 5A state final game as an underdog. Their opponent, Pace, was ranked No. 2 in the country by ESPN Rise and No. 3 by USA Today and MaxPreps. Armwood battled the Patriots until the end, but fell one win short of a state crown in eight innings, losing to Pace 6-5.
Armwood was all too close to winning its first baseball state title — the Hawks clung to a one-run lead in the fifth and were nine outs away from beating Pace. But seven walks, two hit batters and three errors didn't help. Neither did the four double plays the Hawks grounded into.
"It's a great team over there but we felt as if we gave the game away," Armwood coach Mike Wrenn said.
After the game, Wrenn could only look forward. Last season's state semifinal loss to Tallahassee Chiles in the Hawks' first state trip served as motivation all season long. Wrenn hopes being so close to winning state gold continues to keep the Hawks hungry.
"I'm going to tell them 'Fellas, there are 200 other schools who would love to be in your situation. You're one of the top two teams in the state of Florida,' " Wrenn said. "You've got to hold your head high in that situation. This just makes you keep pushing and our seniors to keep pushing to that next level of playoffs or college. Keep pushing to get back here and want to take it one step further."
For both teams, the day ended with plenty of emotion. Nine hours before game time Tuesday, Pace won an emergency appeal to play in the championship game. The FHSAA Board of Directors voted that Pace never intended to violate a rule that mandates only 40 percent of a team's regular season games can be against out-of-state teams. Pace's regular season finale against Pensacola Catholic, postponed by rain twice, couldn't be completed before the district tournament.
"We talked about what happened with the ruling," said Pace pitcher C.T. Bradford, who threw six innings of relief after throwing four Monday. "We didn't really know whether we were going to be able to play this game or not. We struggled to get that last game in the regular season. That was our senior night."
Asked how he would feel if the Hawks won state by forfeit, Wrenn said, "I would have taken it gladly. I'm not stupid. Either way, you take it in stride and go from there."
The Hawks' four-player senior class, which included shortstop/pitcher Zack Powers, centerfielder/pitcher Tyler Alexander, leftfielder Ty Pierson and reserve Brandon Hickman, took the Armwood programs to new levels with back-to-back state appearances.
"I owe a lot to them," Wrenn said. "They were my first class. They figured out how I like to do things. I'm a hard-nosed kind of guy. I play hard. I play aggressive. They've been doing that, and that's why they got here."