SARASOTA — There is usually a mixture of exhilaration and trepidation surrounding the Dunedin baseball program in the postseason.
Exhilaration because the Falcons and their dedicated fans hope each year this will finally be the special season in which the team wins a state title.
Trepidation because of waiting 44 years since the last championship — and the wait sometimes seeming as if it were being calculated in dog years.
There have been so many expectations for Dunedin, so many seasons in which it was on the verge of celebrating a title. The Falcons have been to the final four two other times in the past 11 seasons, losing in the semifinals with a nationally ranked team in 2002 and falling in the finals in 1997.
Alas, there was finally reason to rejoice Thursday night.
Dunedin ended its title draught in the most unlikely fashion, wiggling its way out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the bottom of the seventh inning, then scoring the winning run in the 10th inning for a 3-2 victory against Stuart South Fork.
The win helped free Falcons players, coaches and fans from years of frustration and earn a measure of fame for a program that had always seemed to fall short on the game's biggest stage.
"This is something people have waited a long time for," Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert said.
Speculating whether Hilbert would end the Falcons' drought each May has been routine. Hilbert knew the drill. He expected it by now. He knew that the questions about why Dunedin's terrific rides often yield unsatisfactory finishes would not disappear until a championship trophy was hoisted above the players' heads.
That is life for Hilbert and the Falcons.
But if Hilbert was antsy about the game, especially that nail-biting, bases-loaded situation in the seventh inning, he disguised it.
He remained calm and came through with some coaching decisions that paid dividends, such as using Alex Norris in relief for one batter to get the first out of the jam, then calling on Jake Rogers to get final two outs.
This was probably not the last shot for Hilbert. After all, Dunedin has a strong feeder system and will get plenty of players next season from the Little League team that advanced to the Southeast Region final two years ago.
But it was a precious shot for him and the Falcons. They had eight senior starters.
Afterward, the players stood behind Hilbert. They gave him an ovation. They chanted his name.
Hilbert has more than 250 wins, and he is proud of the legacy he has built at Dunedin.
Now, he was able to erase the one glaring omission on his glossy resume.