Andy Graham’s side were beaten 19-10 by Ballynahinch in the final at the Kingspan Stadium.
Hinch, rooted to the bottom of Division 1A, showed that there is still a gap between that All Ireland League section and the next, Ballymena sitting second in Division 1B and tipped by most as favourites going into the game.
Outhalf Ritchie McMaster missed an eighth-minute penalty and then Ballymena failed to exploit the sin-binning of Hinch lock, James Simpson, on 16 minutes.
Indeed, having butchered some half chances Ballymena found themselves 3-0 behind when Chris Quinn slotted over a penalty on 26 minutes.
Ballymena were rewarded two minutes from the end of the half. Another driving maul of a lineout saw them rumble over the line and hooker Adam McBurney was credited with getting the hand to touchdown.
McMaster converted for a 7-3 lead, but just on half-time Quinn left a point between the sides at the interval with a penalty.
The second half was a lively affair and two minutes in Quinn landed a massive 54m penalty kick to put the Co Down side 9-7 ahead, before McMaster replied five minutes later to give Ballymena a 10-9 advantage.
The score which swung it in Hinch’s favour came on 51 minutes and was rather fortuitous in the end.
Robin Harte had made a lovely mazy break through the middle, but his offload went to ground. The ball ricocheted off Ballymena’s James Beattie and Richard Reaney followed up to pounce on the loose ball for a try.
Quinn converted and then, eight minutes from the end the Hinch winger made it five from five from the ground with a penalty and put nine points between the sides.
Simpson ended up with a red card deep in injury time after the referee had consulted with his assistant.