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Douglas Shuts Out Taravella For 9A-11 Championship

Hunter Fitz-Gerald Connects for an RBI single in the first inning for the winning run for Douglas, before later ending it with a walk-off, three-run home run.

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The way the Eagles strung hits together one might never have realized that most of them were working outside of their normal comfort zone. Heading into Thursday’s 9A-11 title game against rival Taravella, Douglas manager Todd Fitz-Gerald rolled the dice with his lineup and it paid off. The team had struggled the last few weeks and had tried out as many as six different batting orders, but Thursday’s combination worked just right as the Eagles pounded out a dozen hits and Connor Brian threw a complete-game shutout for a 10-0 victory.

“Today I actually had one of my assistant coaches make the lineup, because I was kind of at a loss,” Coach Fitz-Gerald admitted. “DT put a lineup together and it paid off. The good thing for me was having my son back in the lineup after he missed most of the year, because these two playoffs he’s done pretty well. That’s important for him and his confidence as well, but also the team. Hopefully we are starting to peak at just the right time.”

Douglas celebrates its sixth straight district title, while also earning the right to host the opening round of the Class 9A regional playoffs. Douglas (17-6) will host Cypress Bay in a regional quarterfinal on Tuesday, while Taravella (16-9) will travel to take on 9A-12 champion Flanagan.

Connor Brian threw a complete-game shutout, allowing two hits and four walks and striking out eight.

Junior Hunter Fitz-Gerald missed most of the season due to injury, but he quickly made his presence felt in the championship. Batting in the cleanup spot, he delivered an RBI single to center field that scored Jonathan Strauss for the only run that ultimately mattered in the bottom of the first. Hunter then came through again in his final at bat in the sixth, clubbing a three-run home run that walked the Eagles off to victory via the mercy rule.

“This game meant a lot to us in general as a team, because they are our rivals,” Hunter said. “But to me it meant a lot, because my approach all day was good and it feels good to be back and to see live pitching again. I was able to get it done for my team and helped them in the win. It feels great to save our pitching staff and our defense, that they do not have to go out there another inning. All the guys were hyped up after the game and all that energy was just great.”

Strauss got back into the action in a big way his next trip to the plate to further hype up his teammates. Coming up with one out in the third he connected for a high fly ball that carried over the left field fence for a solo home run and 2-0 lead. Douglas added two more runs in the frame, as they loaded the bases when Coby Mayo was hit by a pitch and John Rodriguez and Colin Flynn both walked. Gabe Cabrera then lined a single into center field to plate a pair.

Taravella senior catcher Johny McDonald accounted for both of the Trojans’ hits, going 2-for-2 with a walk.

Staked with the run support he was hoping for, Brian took care of the rest of the mound. The right-hander mixed speeds and pounded the zone, a pair of singles to Taravella senior catcher Johny McDonald accounting for the only hits he surrendered. He scattered four walks and struck out eight.

“Before the game I told them to just get me two runs and I’ll do the rest on the mound,” Brian said. “We got the first run right away and then, after the home run, Strauss came up to me and said that he got me the second one. Then I just kept doing what I was doing and what I know how to do, and they just kept getting me more runs. They played great defense behind me and we had no errors. That’s a story that leads to success in a baseball game.”

The Trojans managed base runners in nearly every inning, but were unable to string any hits together. Taravella only had two base runners in scoring position the entire way. The Trojans’ best chance to break into the scoring column came when Stefano Libio and Mike Sinclair both walked with two outs in the second. But Brian picked off a runner to end the inning.

Jonathan Strauss is congratulated during his big day, as he was a triple short of the cycle for the Eagles.

“Connor did a great job today on the mound,” Coach Fitz-Gerald said. “There were a couple of two-out walks we were not happy with, but other than that, I thought he did a great job. It all starts with the guy on the mound, and you win championships with pitching and defense.”

The district championship comes at a great time for the school and community. Douglas continues to cope and heal from the shooting tragedy in February, and proud moments like these help bring positive feelings to a community still very much in need of them.

“This means a lot, because it means that we are bringing people together,” Strauss said. “Everyone here is a family and we want to make everyone feel good.”

Strauss helped play a big role in that happiness, coming just a triple short of the cycle while going 3-for-3 and also getting hit by a pitch. He scored three times, including once during a three-run fourth inning that was highlighted by an RBI single from Andrew Jenner. But once Strauss hit that home run in the third, it seemed as though all the momentum was on the Eagles’ side.

“Everyone was pumped and there is no better way than to do that with one swing of the bat,” Strauss said. “It put the other team down and their emotions were down, and it just brought our spirits up. Their energy changed but ours did not. Mostly I was just trying to stay up the middle, because last game I was ahead on a lot of pitches, trying to pull too much.”

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