Douglas Blanks Flanagan To Reach 9A Regional Final
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Douglas Blanks Flanagan To Reach 9A Regional Final

Douglas starter Connor Brian struck out nine in the complete-game shutout.

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Helping at the field and trying to have the grounds ready amidst this week’s horrible weather situations, Douglas starter Connor Brian was always thinking about the game itself. Even as Tuesday’s planned regional semifinal against the visiting Flanagan Falcons did not finally get underway until after three straight days of rain outs, Brian still liked being there at the field everyday. He envisioned what was to come and what he knew he could do to help his team.

That vision became a reality on Friday afternoon, as Brian tossed a gem on the mound to stymie the dangerous Falcon bats and earn a 1-0 victory. Douglas will now travel to Jupiter on Tuesday in a 9A regional championship, with the winning team earning a berth in the state Final Four. The Warriors won and advanced with a 5-1 win over Palm Beach Central on Friday.

“I’m the kid who wanted to play this game the most,” Brian admitted. “I knew I would do what I normally do and we got one run, and that was enough for today. This was the most anticipated game of the year. Since the first game we’ve been waiting and we knew we were going to be playing them in the semis and we would go to the regional final. We didn’t really have a pitching plan going in and went inning-by-inning, and obviously it worked.”

The Eagles managed the only run of the game thanks to a few strong swings from the middle of the order. Shortstop John Rodriguez connected on a 2-2 offering and lined it into left field, then ran hard and slid ahead of the throw to earn himself a double. Catcher Colin Flynn then jumped on the first pitch he saw and lined it into the right-center field gap for an RBI double.

The rest was up to Brian, as a base hit in the third from Jonathan Strauss went for the only other hit for the Eagles (19-6). Gonzalez did not miss his spots and did his part to keep Flanagan (24-2) in the contest. The right-hander went the distance, striking out six while walking just one.

Flanagan senior starter Frank Gonzalez also delivered a complete game, allowing one earned run on three hits and a walk, while striking out six.

“My guys know how to back me up; they’ve been doing that all year long. If we keep doing that we’ll have a good, long run,” Brian said.

It was a spirited defensive effort from both sides, as neither team committed an error to deliver a cleanly-played contest across the boards. In such a tight battle between two strong clubs and two lethal hurlers, neither side made any mistakes that affected the final result. Instead players made diving grabs at key times, with Eagles shortstop John Rodriguez chasing down a grounder up the middle to then spin and throw out a runner in the sixth on a ball that seemed destined to go as a base hit up the middle.

“We wanted this,” Douglas manager Todd Fitz-Gerald said. “We talked about it, and Flanagan handed it to us pretty good earlier this season. That kind of stung a little bit. Ray Evans does a good job over, with a lot of class, and they have a great program. Both guys were on point today, and we just got one more hit than they got. It went our way, and what can you say about John Rodriguez’s performance? It was unbelievable, and if he does not make those plays maybe it is a different ball game.”

The shortstop also made another tough, 6-3 putout to end the third, after Tyler Evans singled for Flanagan’s first hit of the game.

The Falcons’ best scoring opportunity came in the fifth. Noah Martindale was hit by a pitch and advanced on a passed ball, and Jesus Delgado followed with a single that put runners on the corners with only one out. But Brian responded by striking out the next two batters, as he closed out the game by retiring the final eight batters in order.

“Connor executed everything we called today. He wanted it and he went out there and executed his plan,” Fitz-Gerald said. “They all are just hungry and they love playing here.”

Players and coaches from both sides parted with class and respect following the tough battle on the field.

The Douglas baseball program has been something special over the past several years under the guidance of Fitz-Gerald and his staff. The team won its first state title two years ago, and they are still alive in the chase for their second state trophy after defeating one of the toughest teams in the entire country. The Eagles took the exact same path to glory two seasons ago, and they are hoping to repeat the same result on Tuesday in Jupiter.

Across the nation and world the school has come to be known in name, following the shooting tragedy in February. The baseball team is one group within the Douglas community that embraces its chances to serve as a source of strength and inspiration.

“We’re on a mission right now,” Fitz-Gerald said. “That’s been our goal since day one, ever since this thing happened and brought us all together. It’s not one person; it’s the entire 20-man roster. It takes all of us, and the coaches did a great job of preparing them for this game. Now we’ve got to go on the road, so we’ve got to get ourselves ready for the road on Tuesday, put our best foot forward and hope we are back in Fort Myers.”

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