ROUND ROCK -- Devan Lindsey was busy now, sharing hugs with both his families -- his parents and his Tiger teammates.
The game and season were over, and the magical journey that no one wanted to end had somehow ended.
It's still impossible to believe it's over.
But there were Corsicana's Tigers, who had walked off the Dell Diamond field with more pride than pain after the most painful loss of their lives, a bitter 2-1 heartbreaker to Colleyville Heritage's nationally-ranked team in the state semifinals, and the Tigers who had come back time and time again were still looking up.
"We can't hang our heads. No one expected us to get this far," said Lindsey, a four-year starter who had just played his final game for Corsicana. "We played good baseball. We just couldn't get that momentum swinging hit we needed."
Micah Burke, who pitched well enough to win in the biggest start of his life, felt the same, just like every broken-hearted kid on this team.
"I just wasn't our day," said Burke, a four-year starter hit .529 in the playoffs and pitched a no-hitter in the Region title series to help get the Tigers to Round Rock. "It just didn't go our way."
These kids had come back so many times in so many ways on this ride of a lifetime that brought them to Round Rock and the Class 5A state tournament - a ride right into history as they joined the 1958 Tigers, the only other Tigers to get this far.
Think about it -- 61 years.
In the end it took one of the best teams in the nation and some incredibly bad luck to stop them.
Heritage is ranked No. 6 in the country by USA Today, and has three players who were drafted in MLB's draft Monday, including Bobby Witt Jr., the No. 1 ranked high school player in the nation who was the No. 2 pick in the draft. But the Panthers (38-3) did not score an earned run on the Tigers, who allowed just four singles all day -- and two of those were infield hits and a third one was nothing more than a flare that died just in time in short left field.
Heritage's pitchers gave up just two hits, and that's why the Panthers will play for the state title on Saturday. Witt Jr. scored both runs. He singled and scored with the help of an error in the first and walked and scored with the help of an error in the third to break a 1-1 tie. Of course, his father had a 16-year career in the big leagues, including pitching for the Rangers. Rusty Greer, who was a Ranger outfielder and fan favorite, also has a son on the Panthers. Mason Greer drove Witt Jr. home with the deciding run with a long sac fly in the third.
The Tigers scored their run in the second when Cade Johnson ripped a hard two-out single to left to bring home Ty Nolen, who had walked and moved up to second on a pitch that bounced in at the plate. The Tigers came oh-so-close to knotting the score at 2-2 in the third after Hunter Autrey ripped a leadoff single. Lindsey followed with a fielder's choice when Greer made a nice play at third.
Lindsey stole second then raced to third on the catcher's throwing error. Nolen laced a line drive that would have brought home Lindsey and tied things up, but his liner went right to Greer at third and Lindsey was left stranded as Heritage's ace Austin Glaze (14-0) and the Panthers breathed a sigh of relief.
"We just made a few mistakes on defense," Tigers coach Heath Autrey said of the uncharacteristic errors. "We got only two hits. We had the tying run in scoring position and just didn't come through with the big hit when we needed it like we have all year.
"I'm so proud of this group of kids. This is a special group. We just didn't have the bounces go our way today. I hate losing more than I like winning. It will take me a while to get over this," he said. "No excuses. We just didn't get it done".
These Tigers not only made a memorable march through the playoffs, but they end the season with 29 victories, the most of any of Autrey's eight teams at CHS, and they brought the community of Corsicana right along with them on the ride to Round Rock, where the Tiger fans were in force, a sea of blue, loud and passionate to the end.
"I'm very thankful for this group and all of the seniors getting us here," Autrey said. "And looking up in the stands and seeing everybody from Corsicana who came here -- it's really humbling. I just want to thank everybody. I hope everyone realizes how hard it is to get here."
Autrey, who has thanked the fans, parents, the school, coaches and the coach's wives, including his wife, Whittney, and everyone for supporting the program, thanked them again after the game.
"I appreciate everyone who supported us," he said.
Autrey and his players were hurting after the game, but they also know just how much they accomplished in this season of the Tigers.
"We played one of the best teams in the country to the last out," said Autrey, whose Tigers had a man at first when Witt, who pitched the seventh for Heritage, got the last out."We went toe-to-toe with the No. 6 team in the country."
Tiger pitching couldn't have been better. Burke and Kolby Kinkade, who entered in the fourth, were both brilliant, shutting down a Panthers team that had 402 hits, 43 home runs and scored 352 runs in 40 games. That team barely had four singles off Burke and Kinkade.
"Micah gave us a great start and Kolby came in and was great," Autrey said.
Burke allowed just three singles, and two of them were infield hits, and Kinkade allowed one hit -- a flare to the first batter he faced when he came into the game with one out and two men on in the fourth. But the sophomore, who has pitched his best in this run through the playoffs, came back and had the moment of the day.
He struck out Heritage's leadoff hitter Logan Britt, who went down looking, and then faced Witt Jr. with the bases still loaded. The crowd was electric in anticipation and every writer in the press box was talking about the showdown. Here was Kinkade, a sophomore, facing Witt, who was offered more than $7 million to sign with the Kansas City Royals.
Kinkade didn't flinch and had Witt down in the count 0-2 right away. Witt fouled off two pitches to build the tension, and then Kinkade got him swinging, sending the Corsicana crowd into euphoria with the biggest moment of the game.
Kinkade finished with four strikeouts over the final 2 2/3 innings. He'll be the Tigers ace for the next two years for a team that brings back Johnson, Hunter Autrey, catcher Caydon Rash and Miguel Luevano, who had a remarkable year as a freshman. Autrey led the Tigers in RBIs this season and was a monster in the postseason, hitting .400 and driving in eight runs in 11 playoff games. Luevano hit .321, drove in eight runs and scored eight runs and Johnson was clutch, hitting .364 in the playoffs.
That youth movement was a big part of the biggest season in decade at Corsicana, but the heart of this team came from Nolen, Burke and Lindsey, three seniors who started four years, Landon Pritchett, a senior who came over from Mildred and started three years, and the addition of Tiger quarterback Blake Hoffman who hadn't played baseball since junior high, but joined the team a year ago and became a huge part of the Tigers' success story.
Those seniors defied all the odds.
No one will ever forget this season, and the wild and joyful journey.
"It has been a wonderful ride, a wonderful ride," said assistant coach Brian Nolen, who announced he was retiring from coaching before the season started. He walks away with the memory of a lifetime.
"It was definitely the best season," said Lindsey, who hit .349 in the regular season and then hit.441 with 10 RBIs in the playoffs. "You couldn't ask for more from these seniors. This is a special group of guys. They mean so much to me."
The kids talked all year about the bond and the chemistry and just how close this team was all year, and that's a hug part of the run to state -- as big as any. They believed in each other.
"No one thought we would be here," Burke said. "Everybody doubted us, but we showed them what we had, showed them what we were made of. It's like Devan said -- 'Don't doubt me.' That's how we felt, 'Don't doubt us."
Ty Nolen, who has been an anchor at first base for four years, walked away knowing just what this season means.
"We played our hearts out today," he said. "That team had three players drafted and we battled them all day."
Then he paused for a second, and said.
"We were here for a reason!"