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Stoneman Douglas (Florida) primed for fourth straight state baseball title

Eagles are coming off of a 29-0 national championship season
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PARKLAND, FLORIDA – For a program that wins an awful lot of championships, Marjory Stoneman Douglas baseball coach Todd Fitz-Gerald rarely talks about them.

Words don’t have to tell the story when the proof of the school’s success is displayed clearly on the outfield fence at Anthony Rizzo Field. Draped on the banners are all the years - and there are many of them - the Eagles have won regional and state titles.

Oh, and when it comes to state championships, Stoneman Douglas has won three in a row, including being crowned national champs after running the table with a perfect 29-0 season in 2023.

Overall, the Eagles have won 51 straight baseball games (a remarkable streak in an unpredictable sport like baseball) and they are favorites again in Class 7A in 2024.

Stoneman Douglas shortstop Devin Fitz-Gerald is one of the top players in the state. Fitz-Gerald is committed to North Carolina State.

Stoneman Douglas shortstop Devin Fitz-Gerald is one of the top players in the state. Fitz-Gerald is committed to North Carolina State.

“You won’t believe me when I tell you this,” said Fitz-Gerald, who surpassed the 500 career wins plateau last season. “I never bring the guys up [to talk] after practice. They do their stuff. I say, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ We never talk about states. We never talk about looking ahead. We always talk about the moment and being in the moment, and in the present.”

Baseball officially opened in Florida last week, and Douglas opens its preseason against West Broward on Feb. 13.

Fitz-Gerald, long established as a coaching legend in Florida, has Stoneman Douglas baseball running so smoothly, the players are conditioned to police themselves. The fact 17 on the roster already have college commitments attests to how talented the roster is.

But it’s the focus in practice. The attention to detail. The interactions and instructions by the players with an experienced and talented coaching staff that has the program seemingly running on autopilot.

Douglas also incorporates analytics, including TrackMan data to measure – among other things -- pitch velocity, spin rates and exit velocities.

With a first-class infrastructure in place, the players have all the resources they need to succeed.

Then there is the history of the program, which includes big leaguers like Anthony Rizzo and Jesus Luzardo.

More recently, the 2022 MLB draft included Roman Anthony being selected by the Boston Red Sox. Anthony is a Top 100 prospect.

“I just think it’s the culture that’s been established over the years,” Fitz-Gerald said. “Every team is a new team every year. And every team wants to do better than the year prior. They all want to leave a lasting legacy here.”

Among those returning from the ’23 perfect season are shortstop Devin Fitz-Gerald, Todd’s son and a North Carolina State commit. Fitz-Gerald, who switch hits, batted .410 with six home runs a year ago. Third baseman Rylan Lujo (Dayton commit) batted .415 and also belted six homers. First baseman Niko Benestad (South Florida), who caught last year, hit .351.

In the outfield, speedster Alex Rodriguez (Central Florida) sported a .385 average, and stole 24 bases while scoring 39 runs. Bennett Gary (Miami) came on late in the season and hit .333.

“It’s really the seniors’ turn now,” Fitz-Gerald said. “It’s the ’24 Class, and they can go out with four in a row, or they really could not. It’s really just how they want to leave their legacy, how they want to lead the team. I think we’ve got guys that lead by example. Not many vocal leaders. But the program kind of leads itself, and the guys police that. It’s pretty special to watch, to be honest with you.”

Pitching-wise, the Eagles again will be strong. Really strong. Jayden Dubanewicz (Florida) was 11-0 with a 1.17 ERA. Gavin Gargiulo (Central Florida) had a 0.55 ERA while being used mostly in relief. Left-hander Luke Cherry had a 0.44 ERA as a sophomore last year.

A newcomer to the roster is sophomore left-hander, Gio Rojas, who had his fastball already clocked in the 91-93 mph range. Miami is strongly after the southpaw.

The Eagles will be looking for pitchers to step up now that the ace from 2023, Christian Rodriguez, has moved on to Florida. Rodriguez was the national player of the year, after going 12-0 with a 0.69 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings.

“Well, let me be very clear,” Fitz-Gerald said. “You cannot replace a Christian Rodriguez. He’s an outlier. A high school baseball legend. One of the most phenomenal kids I’ve ever coached. I think the guys who were under him that he led last year are going to be the leaders of our pitching staff.”

Rojas has a chance to be special.

The Eagles also will be giving opportunities to young position players. First baseman Matt Ossenfort, who belted 10 home runs in 2023, is now at Vanderbilt.

Michael Ossenfort, Matt’s younger brother, will see time at second base. Drew Freeman and Mickey Case will split time catching, and Nick Diaz is a junior who plays first.

“Obviously, I think we’re really experienced,” Fitz-Gerald said. “We’re also inexperienced with a couple of positions, but really talented in those positions. We’ve got a few JV guys who are probably going to have to step in and have good years for us. But I think there’s enough experience around with the senior leadership and the guys on the mound that we should hit the ground running.”