Ceres High School's varsity baseball team found itself in a favorable position heading into the final week of the Western Athletic Conference season.
The Bulldogs needed a split with Central Catholic to win the league title outright.
Ceres High fell two wins shy of perfection and had to settle for a runner-up finish after being swept by the Raiders.
Central Catholic (11-1) captured its seventh consecutive WAC crown.
The Bulldogs (10-2) won their last conference title in 1991.
"Obviously, the kids are devastated," Ceres High head coach John Bussard said. "We knew it was going to be a tough task. Central Catholic has a reputation of being very competitive. They have a quality program. We're trying to get there."
The Bulldogs allowed 15 hits and committed three errors en route to an 11-5 loss to the Raiders on May 7 at Art McRae Field.
"We knew what was at stake," Bussard said. "It came down to the last game of the year for a league title. These kids have never been in that position before. Hopefully, they learned from the experience."
Ceres High sophomore Brad Bussard started at pitcher.
Bussard allowed five runs, scattered eight hits, struck out none and walked two over four innings.
The Bulldogs totaled seven hits on offense.
Albert Lopez had a solo homer.
Brandon Arevalos batted 2-for-3 with one RBI and one run.
Jimbo Pernetti batted 2-for-3 with one run.
Jimmy Bates and Dylan Canatsy both singled and scored once.
Brett Conway knocked in one run.
Brandon Machado singled.
Central Catholic piled up 15 hits.
Tied at 1-all, Ceres High gave up two runs in the top of the fourth inning, three in the fifth and five in the seventh.
The Bulldogs batted .192 as a team with seven strikeouts on their way to a 4-1 loss to the Raiders on May 6 in Modesto.
Central Catholic's Matt Palazzo pitched a complete game, allowing just one run and five hits in seven innings.
Haydon Turpin, Ceres High's star pitcher, yielded four runs and seven hits with eight strikeouts and two walks in a losing effort.
Arevalos doubled and knocked in one run.
Pernetti singled and scored once.
Bates, Canatsy and Brent Bussard all singled.
Tied at 1-all, Central Catholic tallied three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
"It's a difficult task to get the kids to believe in themselves when you're facing a quality opponent like Central Catholic," said coach Bussard, whose team fell two wins shy of ending the Raiders' six-year reign in the WAC. "They've been there and done that. We had an opportunity to win one banner. We didn't play our best."
Ceres High (20-6-1) earned the WAC's No. 2 seed for the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV playoffs.
The Bulldogs will face Sierra Valley Conference champion Vista del Lago (23-4, 16-2) on Thursday at Tony Zupo Field in Lodi.
The game will begin at 4 p.m.
"In baseball, you have to have a short memory," John Bussard said. "We have 24 hours to dwell on the loss. We got playoffs. Anything can happen. We need to get our swagger back."