PALATKA — In the past half-decade, Pasco coach Ricky Giles has watched his season end on a walk-off grand slam (2005), blowout defeat (2007) and staggering rally (2006).
But Saturday's 9-6 loss to Palatka in the deciding game of the Class 4A region final, borne of mental lapses and wayward pitches, was different. When the 2008 season officially had reached sunset, the pain was so acute, Giles darned near kept walking off into it.
Immediately after the game, the 54-year-old strongly suggested he would retire.
"I think I'm worn out, and I just want to let somebody else do it," Giles said in the dugout.
Then about an hour later, he unretired.
"I just talked to some of the kids," he said. "And I decided I can't leave them like that."
"He's not done," athletic director and longtime Giles buddy Jim Ward said. "He's very dejected because of what's taken place. He knows he had the team to win it, and we let them have it."
This was just the emotional ebb and flow after the game.
In the rubber game of this best-of-three series, offensive momentum shifted like the winds that whipped the moss dangling from the oaks beyond the Azalea Bowl.
Most of that was due to the format. Saturday, Palatka started No. 3 pitcher Andy McClain. Pasco, which employed six pitchers in Friday's 10-5 defeat in Game 2 of the doubleheader, came back with senior Dustin Brown, who started that game but lasted only five batters.
Palatka (24-9) took a 4-1 lead in the third, scoring four runs on two hits, a couple of sacrifice bunts, one error and one misjudgment. The final two runs came from a Kyle West fly ball to shallow center that bounced in front of Josh Johnson, who was playing deep.
Johnson gained atonement the next inning with a three-run homer to center, a blast of more than 400 feet. Jake Schrader's two-run shot to left in the fifth gave Pasco (26-7) a 6-4 lead.
But Palatka responded by touching Brown (four innings, five hits, three walks, one strikeout) for a single and two doubles to open the bottom of the fifth. The second double, by Brandon Lee, scored two runs and tied the score.
Giles replaced Brown with fellow senior right-hander Aaron Brandt, who worked 41/3 innings in Game 1. Four batters later, Brandt allowed a three-run homer to No. 8 hitter Brandon Bennett, who hadn't homered all year.
McClain then pitched 1-2-3 innings in the sixth and seventh to notch the complete game, end the Pirates' otherwise successful year and clinch Palatka's first state tournament berth in 22 years.
Minutes later, the Pirates players, most of them sobbing, stood in line while waiting to hug Giles' neck in the dugout, one by one.
"I can't even explain it," Brandt said.
"We were just out of it," he said. "Two days, we made brain (cramps).
"We just didn't get the job done, and they did."