Central Valley's varsity boys soccer team returned to the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs following a one-year absence and made an improbable run to the Division-III championship game.
Seeded fifth, the Hawks needed to notch their third upset of the tournament to claim their first blue banner.
Central Valley had to settle for runner-up honors for the fifth time as third-seeded Lincoln cruised to a 3-1 win on Saturday at Cosumnes Oaks High School in Elk Grove.
"It's unexplainable," Hawks head coach Omar Leon said. "It happened again. Each time, it's the same feeling. It hurts a lot. I feel bad for the kids."
Central Valley compiled a 20-7-3 overall record and placed third in the Western Athletic Conference standings (9-4-2) this winter.
The Hawks had their streak of consecutive playoff appearances snapped at eight years in 2016.
"We had a wonderful season," Leon said. "The kids kept fighting and competing to the end. They should be proud of each other."
Central Valley never recovered after Lincoln (20-1-2) stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes.
"We blinked a couple of times and they capitalized," Leon said. "I couldn't believe it."
Each team scored once during the second half.
Adrian Espinoza accounted for Central Valley's lone goal.
Down 3-0, Espinoza converted a free kick late in the game.
"I saw a lot of good attitude even though we were losing," Leon said. "We had the team to beat them. We just didn't step up. We made mistakes in the first 10 minutes. They got the momentum."
The Hawks won three of four games in the 2017 playoffs.
Central Valley upset No. 1 East Union 6-5 in a penalty-kick shootout and posted a 5-0 victory over No. 4 Rio Americano.
The Hawks dominated No. 12 Golden Valley 4-1 in the first round.
"It would have been nice to finally win it all," Leon said. "I'm still very proud of the kids. I want to thank them for their effort."
Central Valley was awarded a second-place plaque after losing to Lincoln.
The goal of winning section titles remains elusive.
"It has become an obsession," Leon said. "We desperately want to win it. I'm sure it's going to happen. I just don't know when. I wish I knew."
Espinoza, Andres Velasquez and Angel Lopez, Central Valley's talented trio, will be lost to graduation in June.
"It will be really hard to replace them," Leon said. "They were the brain of the team. They set the tone of the game. We're going to miss them."