Losing in the PIAA Class AA championship baseball game was still difficult to discuss for Beaver Area coach Bruce Herstine.
Even a few days removed from watching his Bobcats suffer a 5-4 walk-off loss to Loyalsock Township, Herstine fought back his emotions while talking about the game.
"It was just so agonizing," Herstine said. "It's probably the worst thing I've had to go through in athletics. To see the tears coming down from those kids was tough. You just wanted to rip your heart out for them.
"It was a tough bus ride home."
In a back-and-forth battle with District 4's Loyalsock Township, Beaver ended up losing by one run June 14 at Penn State's Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in University Park, Pa.
"We just didn't play our best game," Herstine said. "Up until that game, from the WPIAL championship and the three state playoff games, we were playing flawless ball. You can't take anything away from Loyalsock. They gave us a good game.
"I still haven't read a newspaper or watched the game on TV. It's going to take a long time before I do that."
The Bobcats (20-4) did trail 4-3 entering the final inning before senior first baseman Nick Hineman drove in senior shortstop Austin Logan with and RBI-single up the middle. Hineman went 2 for 4 with two RBIs against Loyalsock (22-3).
Senior right-handed pitcher Austin Ross, a Radford University recruit, suffered the loss. He led Beaver's pitching staff this season with a 10-2 record. Logan, also right-handed, went 8-1 this year.
"Our boys never gave up," Herstine said. "Any time they scored, we scored. We had been flawless until then and we were playing as the visitors. Maybe if we were the home team and had that last at-bat things would have turned out differently."
After winning a Section 5-AA title, Beaver cruised through the WPIAL playoffs and knocked off top seed Quaker Valley, 7-1, to win the district crown.
In the PIAA tournament, the Bobcats were untouchable until the championship game. Making its first appearance in a state championship game since 1983, Beaver posted three consecutive shutout wins -- outscoring opponents 18-0 in three games -- before meeting Loyalsock.
"The guys are still taking [the loss] really hard," Herstine said. "They expected to go to Penn State and win that game. They made their minds made up that they were winning it all while we were on this run. They knew they could do it. They had been playing great ball, too."
With a senior-loaded lineup, the Bobcats were guided by the veteran experience of Hineman, Logan, Ross, senior catcher Ben Herstine, senior third baseman Matt Rose, senior outfielder Anthony Fidurski and senior outfielder Jalen Lawson as well as junior outfielder Jordan Yates and junior second baseman Alex Rowse.
"Their poise throughout the entire season really stood out," Herstine said. "This team never got rattled. Even in the state title game they stayed calm.
"I never saw any of our guys get nervous one time. This was the most loose and coolest kids I've been around, and they certainly made it fun to be around them this season."
Dropping down to Class AA this season after a two-year stint competing in Class AAA, Beaver competed in Section 5-AA along with Riverside, Ellwood City and Neshannock. Riverside entered the season as a two-time defending state champion, while Ellwood City was coming off a WPIAL title in Class AA and Neshannock captured the Class A crown before moving back up to Class AA.
"Our section is what got us [to the state championship]," Herstine said. "There were no gimme games in this section. Every team, even the teams with losing records, played you tough and wanted to beat you.
"I don't think the teams we faced throughout the playoffs saw the type of pitching we saw in our section. Our section was competitive and that really prepared us for the playoffs."
Herstine loses eight seniors to graduation and will welcome back just two returning starters next season.
"I hate to say it, but we're going to have to rebuild," he said. "A lot of young kids are going to see playing time next year.
"Those younger kids made it to all our games and hopefully they saw what we were able to accomplish this season taught them about winning. This group we had has a real love for baseball and I hope the younger kids pick up on that."