It seemed like destiny that Palisade would find itself in the Class 4A state tournament.
When Stevie Reynolds launched a pitch over the outfield wall in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday in the Region 4 championship game, the Bulldogs had a 6-2 lead and controlled all the momentum against a program that hadn't been to state in 22 years.
What followed was a devastating final inning for the home team.
Fort Morgan (17-8) scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning to erase a 6-3 deficit, rallying for a 9-6 victory at Palisade.
"My message to the players was simple: I love those guys," said Palisade's second-year head coach, Nate Porter. "They're an awesome team and an awesome group of kids and they battled all seven innings. We came up short. I told those guys, 'That's why we play this awesome game of baseball.' You play for that intensity factor that you don't get in other sports, or at least that I'm aware of. There's so much to it, and those kids are an awesome group of kids.
"I wouldn't trade them for any team out there. They have good attitudes, they work hard, and it was fun."
The overall season for Palisade (17-8) had fun moments, but it ended with tears and hugs among Bulldog players because of the Mustangs' rally.
Fort Morgan's Mateo Salcido started the rally in the sixth with a solo home run, his first homer of the year. It provided the team some life and hope.
That life and hope turned into a seventh-inning scoring spree.
JP Hamer scored after a wild pitch by Reynolds, trimming the lead to 6-4. Later, Javier Baquera delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded to tie the game, followed by Jacob Ortega being thrown out of the game by the umpire for his celebration.
Salcido got involved again, nearly hitting another home run but settling for a hit to the wall to drive in two more runs for an 8-6 lead, Fort Morgan's first lead since 1-0 in the third.
Connor Fajardo's single to score Cael Langford ended the outburst.
Three outs in the bottom frame later, the prep careers of Palisade's three seniors, Sebo Campbell, Brandon Pribble and Elijah Swank, ended.
"I can't say enough about our seniors, starting off with Sebastian (Campbell)," Porter said. "He was a phenomenal leader on our team and his attitude was top-shelf all year long. His work ethic was second to none. He made you smile and laugh when you needed to. Brandon came back from an injury last year and had a good season. He worked hard. Elijah's got a great future ahead of him because he's just a good, fun, mentally tough kid.
"I'm going to miss those guys a bunch."
Campbell was Palisade's leading hitter, finishing his career with a three-hit performance.
Palisade fell behind 1-0 early, but it scored two runs with two outs in the third to shift the momentum. Jack Mohler hit a double to score Nate Bollinger, which was followed by Cody Bellmire's single to left field to send Mohler home for a 2-1 lead.
In the fourth, the Bulldogs added to their advantage. Campbell led off with a single before scoring on a double by Pribble. Pribble scored on a single by Dylan Allegheiligen to stretch the lead to 5-1.
The Bulldogs appeared the superior side for much of the game. Now, with three seniors leaving, the remaining 12 players on the squad who return next season will have the entire offseason to let their lost opportunity marinate.
"My message to them was, 'Take that feeling that's in your gut because it's the same feeling I have and bottle it up,' " Porter said. " 'When you're thinking about quitting or not lifting that extra 50 pounds or not running those extra stairs or take that extra batting practice, find that feeling again. Tap into that and see what it feels like because the feeling is not good.' "
The Bulldogs reached the regional championship game with a 12-5 win over Durango (9-14) earlier in the day.
Palisade also had a lead that was trimmed in that game, with a 5-0 lead becoming 5-4, but Mohler, Reynolds and Campbell led a fourth-inning charge to stretch the lead back to 10-4, ensuring the Demons' rally wouldn't come to pass.
Fort Morgan reached the championship with an 8-4 win over Pueblo County.