PORT ST. LUCIE — The Armwood baseball team woke up Tuesday morning knowing its first state title was well within its grasp, but the Hawks didn't know exactly how close they were to getting it.
Around breakfast time, their opponent in the Class 5A title game, nationally ranked Pace, was fighting for its playoff life, pleading its case to the FHSAA's board of directors.
Just less than 12 hours later, their heads hanging, the Hawks had shown how much fight they brought to Port St. Lucie.
Armwood, a team that entered its district tournament as a No. 4 seed, fought ESPNRise's No. 2 team in the nation into extra innings, riding the waves of momentum until falling with a 6-5 walkoff loss in eight innings.
"Coming in as a No. 4 seed, they felt as if they had to bust their butts to win games, and that's what they did," Armwood coach Mike Wrenn said. "They came up one short but did a heck of a job to get this far."
As the Hawks (20-10) beat team after team in the postseason — seven in a row — their mantra this season had been "Just one more cow," but their excitement-filled final game of the year was more like "Holy cow!"
"Best game of the week," Bright House Sports Network play-by-play announcer and former major-league pitcher Frank Viola said as he left Digital Domain Park.
On Tuesday morning, Pace (29-2) won an emergency appeal with the FHSAA after the organization found out it had played too high a percentage of regular-season games against out-of-state teams.
Come game time, the Patriots tagged Armwood starter Josh Spano for four runs, capitalizing on two walks and a hit batter to open the first inning.
But Armwood answered with five runs in the third inning.
With three runs in after RBIs from Jordan Fameree, Spano and Tyler Alexander, Tanner Emmons' sharp grounder hopped up on the second baseman and into the outfield to score two and give Armwood a 5-4 lead.
Armwood had opportunities to extend that lead, but the Hawks grounded into four double plays.
The momentum killer was David Casey's inning-ending diving catch onto the warning track in right-center nearly 390 feet out, surely taking at least a run-scoring double away from Spano in the fourth.
"We came back in the third and made a statement of our own, hitting the ball hard all night," Wrenn said. "We just kept going right at them."
After Pace tied the score in the fifth, Patriots pitcher C.T. Bradford, a Mississippi State recruit, faced one batter over the minimum in the final four innings. Bradford, who threw 60 pitches in Monday's semifinal, threw 140 over the two-day tournament.
"People got their money's worth (Tuesday night)," Pace coach Charlie Warner said.
Pace scored the winning run after the leadoff hitter reached on a two-base throwing error in the eighth. Pinch-runner Mark Bass stole third after surviving a botched pickoff then came home to a celebration near the plate on Casey's one-out, bases-loaded chopper over the third baseman's head.
Armwood watched in silence as the Patriots hoisted the state championship trophy — well within the Hawks' reach but so far away.
"A couple of bounces went their way," Wrenn said. "That's just the way things go."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at [email protected]