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Doral Shut Out In State-Champion Showdown With Douglas

Frank Menendez (12) on the mound for Doral Academy.

Two of South Florida’s top programs clashed on Tuesday night in a battle that saw the reigning FHSAA Class 7A state champion Marjory Stoneman Douglas Eagles (4-0) take down the reigning Class 6A state champion Doral Academy Firebirds (2-2), 3-0.

It’s rare enough to see two state champions clash throughout the season, but that wasn’t the only similarity between the two teams on Tuesday. Both of the game’s starting pitchers are headed to the University of Florida next year if the MLB doesn’t come calling. Douglas right-hander Christian Rodriguez had the more dominant start, striking out 13 and taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but Doral lefty Frank Menendez put up his own strong start save for an uncharacteristic second inning.

“I think we had a great team win against a very, very, very good Doral Academy team,” Rodriguez said. “I think we played well. Just in general, we had some great at-bats against two really good arms. We had a lot of energy, and it feels good having these guys behind my back. They told me to go get it and did what they asked.”

Rodriguez was on his A-game. He topped out at 97 mph and was hitting 95 mph late in the game. He gave up just one hit, a single in the sixth inning, and nearly went the distance for a complete game shutout. Rodriguez got his manager to let him come back out for the seventh inning but was pulled after getting the first out. He finished the night at 97 pitches through 6 1/3 scoreless innings.

“I thought he commanded the ball really well,” Eagles manager Todd Fitz-Gerald said. “He threw some really good sliders and changeups early in the count and kind of overpowered them with the fastball. He held his velo late in the game. I wanted to get him out around 80-85 (pitches). He told me he wasn’t coming out. I ran him back out for the seventh and that’s good. He’s going to have about 10 days off, we can shorten the workload next week.

“But I thought he was outstanding and kept us in the ballgame. When he’s on the mound like that, you’ve got to figure you’ll be alright if you score a couple.”

Robert Rodriguez (14) at bat for the Doral Academy Firebirds

Fitz-Gerald’s theory turned out to be true, and Douglas got all the runs it needed in the bottom of the second inning. Menendez walked four straight batters after retiring the first two in the inning with ease and allowed Douglas to take a 2-0 lead. After the game, Menendez was still searching for an answer to why that inning was so particularly difficult for him. The pressure is something he’s faced before (and thrived under), and there were no signs of the same issues after that.

He topped out at 95 mph, which looks even faster coming in from the left side, and walked just one other batter the rest of the night while racking up five strikeouts. It wasn’t the dominant performance Menendez wanted out of the evening, but the outing does serve as further proof that he’s one of the more resilient arms in the tri-county area.

“I’m obviously sad that we didn’t get the win after everything, but I’m just happy that I bounced back from a really terrible second inning,” Menendez said. “It’s probably something I haven’t done since I was like 10 or 12 years old. But I was happy that I bounced back. After my second inning, I was at least able to go out there and give my team a chance.”

Williams Durruthy, Menendez’s pitching coach, backed up his pitcher and praised him for his composure and limiting damage when things got tough in the second. Menendez lasted 4 2/3 innings and allowed just three hits. Sophomore right-hander Jonathan Vazquez pitched the final 1 1/3 innings in relief and didn’t give up a hit while striking out two and walking just one.

“If he does what he did today, he’s going to be fine,” Durruthy said on Menendez’s outlook for the rest of the season. “We faced a really good team, and he didn’t even really get beat. He kind of beat himself.”

First baseman Daniel Restrepo (3) dives to apply the tag on Doulgas’ Dillion Moquin (15).

Douglas did add one more run to the tally in the fifth before closing things out. Christian Rodriguez, who was batting third for the Eagles, grounded into a double play that scored Alex Rodriguez and increased the lead to three. Christian took a tumble out of the box on the play, but he finished off the game and was perfectly fine afterward. Alex was also involved in Douglas’ second run of the night when he walked to score left fielder Jackson Abram.

Doral added one more hit in the top of the seventh after Rodriguez came out of the game and James Smith took over. Daniel Restrepo singled to center but never made it home. Smith got the final out of the ball game and closed out what was a true pitcher’s duel that came down to a bad inning and a run that scored on a double play.

“They’ve got dudes all over the place, but it was just our night tonight,” Fitz-Gerald said. “If we played each other 10 times, it’d probably be a 50-50 split. I’ve known (Doral manager) Ralph (Suarez) for a long time. We’ve competed against each other for a long time, and it’s always good to play teams like that because you have a lot of respect for them…

“I didn’t expect 10 hits tonight. I thought we’d get three, four or five and they’d get three, four or five and someone would be playing catchup. And that’s what we did. We capitalized on a couple of miscues and here we are, 3-0 final. It feels great, but it doesn’t get any easier.”

Moving forward, Douglas has a 3-0 Miami Springs team that’s loaded with talent on the schedule. It’s another early test for the back-to-back state champs, but the Eagles have more than proven themselves in the early goings of the year. Another trip to Ft. Myers isn’t guaranteed, but this doesn’t look like a team that’s planning on having its season end in a regional quarterfinal.

Doral, on the other hand, has to bounce back after dropping two straight games early in the year. The Firebirds are still clearly one of the top teams in the state, but they can’t afford to let a few losses snowball. They close out the week back at home with Somerset Academy on Thursday and Braddock on Friday.

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