SARASOTA — The final rally of Cambridge's dream season fell just short Tuesday night.
Facing the state's dream team of Class A — a Jacksonville Eagle's View team that beat eventual Class 5A champion Dunedin and national power Sarasota, and even beat one team 55-0 — the Lancers rebounded with a five-run rally in the seventh inning before falling to the Warriors 8-6 at Sarasota's Ed Smith Stadium.
Cambridge's plate approach in the state tournament was to swing aggressively, and it worked in the Lancers' favor in their 18-run win in the state semifinal.
But heading into the final inning Tuesday having scored just one run, they played with patience.
And when senior Michael Miller took an off-speed pitch over the leftfield fence for a two-run homer to cut Eagle View's lead to two and the quiet Cambridge dugout raced onto the field, momentum swung toward the Lancers.
"We knew there was a possibility," Miller said. "I thought we could win."
Added Cambridge coach Rick Shears: "It felt like I jumped as high in the air as I could. I knew that if we could just keep that pressure up, we could succeed. In the last inning, we knew we had to take a strike, and that led to some baserunners and some heroes. The game changed."
The Lancers' bats, however, awoke too late. Two batters later, leftfielder Logan McDougall, who had a team-high three hits, took a called strike three, and the Lancers watched as the Warriors celebrated in a pile near the mound.
Miller, who started back-to-back games after pitching just two innings in Monday's rout, struggled on the mound. He allowed a season-high seven runs — six earned — over 21/3 innings. But he hit a second-inning leadoff double off the top of the leftfield fence that was inches away from being a home run.
Despite falling behind 6-0 after two innings following a delayed start of 1 hour, 57 minutes due to rain, the Lancers had their opportunities.
Cambridge had runners at second and third with one out in the second and couldn't score. In the sixth, with runners at first and third, McDougall was picked off at third to end the inning.
It didn't seem to matter at the time, but after the Lancers' last-inning rally, they could look back at the missed opportunities.
But this Lancers team — which was just 14-12 last season and didn't have a coach until Shears, the football coach, stepped up two weeks before practice started — took this program to new heights. It was Cambridge's first state championship game, and with the departure of four seniors, the younger players will take over the team with the bar raised.
"Hopefully we taught them how to win," Miller said.