Conchs Come Up Short Against State #1 Douglas
The Stoneman Douglas Eagles (20-0) earned win No. 20 on Thursday night and got the job done an inning early with a 13-2 victory over Miami-Dade No. 3 Key West (15-5).
The visiting Conchs aren’t a bad team by any means and came into the matchup hungry for an eighth-straight win, but the Eagles are now on a 42-game win streak and seem determined to win a third-straight state title. Douglas always plays with an intensity that’s hard to find consistently in high school baseball, but even manager Todd Fitz-Gerald notices a difference in his team.
“Our kids were really prepared to play tonight,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We had a really good practice yesterday, took really good (batting practice) today so I felt really good with whoever they threw at us.”
The recent flooding in the area forced Douglas to take over a week off from playing games, but the Eagles are entering their postseason push with some serious power. After going down 1-0 against Park Vista on Tuesday, the team stormed back to win 8-2. Niko Benestad, Devin Fitz-Gerald, Rylan Lujo and Matthew Ossenfort all hit home runs in the win over Key West, with Lujo’s sixth-inning blast serving as the go-homer.
“At the beginning of the season, I felt really hot,” Lujo said. “I felt really good and that’s when most of my home runs came. If you look back at the stats, I’ve had a lot of ‘0-for’ games. I just couldn’t find the barrels. Sometimes, you hit those streaks, but I stayed positive coming into this game and he just gave me a fastball. That’s just all the anger from those ‘0-for’ games coming out on that ball.”
Lujo had a stretch of three games earlier in the year that he homered consecutively in, but his fourth and most recent home run came back on March 21. His fifth was a no-doubter, though, and hopefully will serve as a jumpstart for the playoffs. Lujo also drove in the first run of the ball game in the bottom of the first with a sacrifice fly to score Alex Rodriguez. Matt Ossenfort drove in run No. 2 on a ground out, and Benestad capped off the opening frame with his first big fly of the season.
Fitz-Gerald homered with a man on in the second, and Ossenfort scored on an errant throw from Key West’s backstop trying to get him stealing third. Just three runs away from a potential run-rule win, Douglas quickly got into a winning position with a double from A. Rodriguez and an RBI single from Fitz-Gerald. A walk put the 10th run at the plate, and Ossenfort, a Vanderbilt commit, sent a missile over the right field wall. 11-0, Douglas.
Meanwhile, right-hander Jayden Dubanewicz had settled into a nice outing after struggling a bit in the first. A leadoff error got the night off on the wrong foot and Dubanewicz loaded the bases on a single and walk after recording a pair of outs. He’d get a strikeout to end the inning, though, and retire eight of the final 10 batters he faced.
Dubanewicz earned his seventh win of the season in as many starts and added five strikeouts to his season total bringing him up to 45, but it was far from his easiest outing of the year. The flooding interrupted Dubanewicz’s throwing schedule and he had to work through some early issues.
“They (Key West) are definitely a really good team,” Dubanewicz said after the game. “I give them credit. They made me work. First time back on the mound in about two weeks because of the rain, and I just went out there and did my thing.”
Brayden McCluskey came in to pitch the fifth and ran into a little trouble, but the senior Fitz-Gerald said after the game that he liked most of what he saw from him. A fastball left in the wrong spot was deposited over the center field wall by Key West’s No. 9 hitter, Gabe Williams, to put the Conchs on the board. Two more baserunners reach, and that was the end of the night for McCluskey.
Sophomore left-hander Luke Cherry came in to try and finish off the run-rule victory, but a single into left from Anden Rady extended the game by an inning. Rady led the Conchs offensively with three hits in as many plate appearances.
On the mound, Key West went with senior right-hander Andris Barroso, who Conchs manager Ralph Henriquez referred to as Lucky. He entered the day without giving up a run in his last 16 innings, but that changed in a hurry. It was also the first game of the season for Key West on a natural field and there are obvious challenges that come with that change.
“When you’ve got a team that’s on a streak like they are, you know 41-42 games in a row, they are going to be tough to beat,” Henriquez said. “They’re a helluva ball club, no doubt about it. We did the same thing in ’96. We ran 44 straight games. These guys just have a good ball club, and it’s hard to defend when the ball leaves the yard four times with men on base.”
Henriquez isn’t stressing over the loss. Most teams come into Anthony Rizzo Stadium with an idea of what could happen, and simulating a playoff loss isn’t the worst thing for a ballclub with a serious chance to host and win its regional tournament.
“We wanted to play a tough schedule like we do and are grateful Fitz gave us a chance to come up here and play,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll take this experience and it will help us into the playoffs over the next few weeks.”
The only thing Henriquez might be worried about is his shortstop, who left the game early after taking a tumble and having his knee flare up. It’s a bad time for any team to lose a player, and shortstop is the last position any coach wants to replace a week and a half before the playoffs. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious and the recovery time is short.
Senior night is next for Douglas. The Eagles will host COHEA and end the season at Palm Beach No. 4 American Heritage-Delray. If both end up being wins, the Eagles will have completed a perfect regular season and can look ahead to a playoff run that could include No. 50 in a row. Fitz-Gerald’s 500th coaching win should also get checked off during the district or regional run. He’s at 496 after this win, but as one might expect, all he cares about right now is winning.
” It’s just weird. Nothing phases them,” Fitz-Gerald said. “These kids believe in each other and they play hard for each other. It’s a really, really fun group to coach, and I couldn’t be happier for them and the success that they are having.
“I’ve done it. I’ve been to the mountain top many times, so I want it for them. We’re going to do everything as coaches to get it done. At the end of the day, they have to make the plays get hits, but they’ve done it all year long and it’s a really good culture we have.”