“We knew this would be the toughest game to State” was the conversation going on in the Woodward-Granger dugout as the Hawks (18-5-1) watched Panorama (12-3) steal away the district final game 8-3 on Saturday in Granger.

Gone were the chances to move on to State, losing once again to a conference opponent two rounds away from a ticket to Principal Park.

Beat by their best

Woodward walked the high wire more than its fair share of times as the Heart Attack Hawks developed a reputation for pulling away with tight wins. That included winning nail-biters against the Panthers twice before with 4-2 and 1-0 victories.

The magic. The luck. Whatever you call it, fell in the Panthers’ laps this time, putting forth their best foot to make a case they deserve to not only go to State but should have been included in the season’s final rankings.

“Their best players beat us,” Hawks head coach Eric Evans said. “Their pitcher (Drew Taylor) was muddy head-to-toe. He was leaving it all out there. Then Luke South the senior, he leaves tomorrow for West Point. So that was his last game. Their best two players did what they had to do.”

South was responsible for two runs and two RBI, and also struck out five Hawks in 2.2 innings pitched for a career-best performance. Taylor struck out another four batters to keep the hosts quiet the majority of the night.

Anything you can do…

That is, the Hawks were kept quiet all night except for one inning.

Faced with a 3-0 deficit after the first inning, Woodward finally woke up in the third inning with three runs of their own. In a rapid turn of events spurred by Worth Henry’s triple on a Panthers’ error, Bryce Achenbach flipped the first W-G score of the night.

That was immediately followed by a squeeze bunt from Brandon Worley to send Henry home. And Worley followed soon after when Trevor Simmons sent a fastball to the warning tracks. All tied 3-3 and momentum was back on Woodward’s side.

“I still think if we don’t give up three in the first, we get the win,” Evans proposed. “We pick a guy off, we make a play, I think it’s a whole different game. But I admire that we came back.”

Then the Panthers came back with another three-run inning to steal that momentum again. From there on out, the Panthers’ tightened up their act to allow just two Hawks on base the rest of the night. By the time Reese Jamison whipped a double to the fence in the seventh inning, the 8-3 score was too steep a mountain.

Where do we go now?

Some teams after their final loss are packed up within minutes and take a few photos for families and social media posts.

With 11 seniors — most of which have been with the program since eighth grade — to say goodbye to, the team took over a half hour to wrap up and say their final words with each other.

“It’s hard to see these 11 guys just hanging out. Like, what do we do now?” Evans said. “I told them (after the postgame meeting), ‘I have nothing else. I don’t know what to tell you.’ It’s a tough group to lose.”

He added that no matter what they do, and what path they choose beyond the field, “it’s gonna be weird not watching.”

If there’s any solace in the moment, it’s knowing 11 of the school’s young men will grab their diplomas tomorrow.