MSD baseball claims back-to-back championship seasons after winning 2022 state title in triumphant victory

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Courtesy of Jake Stephens

Pitcher Chris Arroyo (23) takes the mound in the Eagles’ state championship game against the Palm Beach Gardens Gators. Arroyo made outstanding contributions to the team’s victory, pitching five scoreless innings and hitting a walk-off home run to bring the game to a mercy rule.

Reece Gary, Sports editor

In 2021, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School varsity baseball team took home their second state championship, adding to the program’s reputable history. With most high school sports teams, the adjustment due to loss of seniors and the addition of new players makes the task of winning two straight championships extremely difficult. However, the hard work and commitment of the Club Doug program allowed them to defeat the odds.

Having only two losses the entire season, the Eagles were dominant in nearly every showing, including several mercy-rule wins and countless highlight plays. Throughout their dominance, the Eagles were able to be named district and regional champions, as well as claiming a victory in the National High School Invitational Tournament in Cary, North Carolina.

“It means a lot,” third baseman Rylan Lujo (14) said. “Not many teams have back-to-back [state championships] and win a national championship, so it’s a big deal to us.”

Additionally, as a result of their tremendous skill and athleticism, almost all of the 2022 seniors included in the MSD baseball program have received the outstanding achievement of committing to colleges on baseball scholarships.

Because of the great success of their season, the path towards winning back-to-back championships was seen as extremely attainable as the Eagles headed into the playoffs.

To start their championship path, the Eagles faced the West Broward Bobcats on Tuesday, May 10, who they shut out 3-0 earlier in the season. Tallying 11 hits in the game, the Eagles soared to victory with an 8-4 win.

In their following match, the Eagles saw a tougher match as they faced the Taravella Trojans, one of their two opponents to beat them this season. Through a tight matchup, the Eagles edged their way over the opposing force for a 3-2 victory.

On Tuesday, May 17, the Eagles faced Columbus High in the regional championship. The Eagles struggled for the majority of the game, leaving them down by two runs in the fifth inning. However, they were able to rally five runs in the single inning, leading to a stop of the opposing Explorers’ momentum as the Eagles prevailed in a 7-5 victory.

Coming off a regional championship victory, the Eagles sought to continue their dominance in the state semifinal against the Hagerty Huskies on Friday, May 20. With pitcher Jake Clemente (24) giving up only one hit in all seven innings of the game, the incredible defensive effort of the Eagles allowed for a 4-1 victory.

With these victories under the Eagles’ belt, the team was heading to the state championship game for their second year in a row, hoping for another title win. The Eagles’ practice and hard work throughout the season was to be put to the test as they looked towards obtaining the trophy.

The following day, Saturday, May 21, the MSD Eagles made their way onto the packed stadium field in Fort Myers, Florida for the championship game. Carrying momentum from throughout the season, the Eagles were prepared to put forth their best effort. In the game, the Eagles challenged the Palm Beach Gardens Gators, a fierce opponent that appeared to be a tough competitor.

With Chris Arroyo (23), who has led dominant starts all season long, taking the mound, the Eagles were confident in their ability to hold off the opposing offense. After a scoreless first inning, the Eagles became more determined to gain an early lead.

With both teams scoreless in the bottom of the second inning, Clemente saw an opportunity to take command of the game as he homered on a deep drive to left field. As the crowd cheered, the Eagles gained the momentum they needed to continue upon their 1-0 lead.

On defense, Arroyo continued to hold back the Gator offense, leaving them scoreless as the Eagles went up to bat in the third inning. Knowing that a one-run lead would likely not be enough to best their opponent, the team looked towards their offense for an exciting increase in runs.

After a double from centerfielder Roman Anthony (22), a base hit from catcher Santiago Ordonez (12) scored the Eagles’ second run of the game. With an early gain of momentum, the Eagles began to get hot on offense.

The second run for the Eagles was followed by another as outfielder Alex Rodriguez (13) served as a courtesy runner in substitution for Ordonez. A wild pitch was thrown by the Gators, allowing Rodriguez to steal home, giving the Eagles a 3-0 lead.

Shortly thereafter, a hit-by-pitch for second baseman Cameron Harris (6) and a single for outfielder Christian Rodriguez (10) allowed for two runners on base for Clemente, who was already successful in scoring a run in a previous inning.

“The thing we did best was play as a team and pick each other up,” C. Rodriguez said. “I believe that I helped contribute to whatever my team needed as a hitter and fielder.”

With the opportunity to score another, Clemente drove a single to right field, scoring a run while leaving another teammate on third base. First baseman Nicholas Benestad (16) followed the RBI single with another, scoring the fourth runner of the inning and the fifth for the Eagles’ total score.

After left fielder Grant McDonald (8) was hit by a pitch, the bases were loaded for Lujo. Given the great opportunity to add to the Eagles’ lead, Lujo drove in another run from a single.

“I didn’t get ahead of myself and I played my role,” Lujo said. “I feel like we were training for that game the whole season, and we won it in the end. We executed and did everything we wanted to do.”

As the third out of the inning was made by the Gators soon after, the Eagles continued their tight defense with a 6-0 lead. On the mound, Arroyo continued to hold back the Gators’ offense, keeping the opponent scoreless throughout the game thus far.

After a scoreless fourth inning for both teams and another shutout inning from Arroyo, the Eagles entered their offensive turn in the fifth. Already with a strong lead over the Gators, the Eagles sought to expand upon their margin of victory nevertheless.

The Eagles got an early start to the inning as they quickly loaded the bases with only one out given up. With Anthony at the plate again, he hit a sacrifice fly ball allowing another runner to score for the Eagles.

Following Anthony’s at-bat was Arroyo, who had already seen tremendous success throughout the game as he dominated on the mound to allow zero opposing runs and pitching for seven strikeouts. With two runners on base, Arroyo was eager to add to his contributions for the day.

In a strong swing, Arroyo sent the ball flying towards right field, resulting in a home run. With MSD fans from across the state ecstatic, the score was brought to 10-0 in favor of the Eagles. Due to the significant lead, the game officials called mercy rule, and the championship match was brought to an end.

Eagles players, coaches and staff took the field in celebration as they accomplished their goal of winning back-to-back state championships.

“It feels amazing that we can make history and be a part of such an amazing group of teammates and coaches,” C. Rodriguez said. “We are special and helped continue a dynasty at Douglas.”

After the game’s conclusion, the Eagles were awarded their championship title and were crowned 2022 7A FHSAA Baseball Champions.

As the Eagles close out their season on a high note, they prepare to adjust their team for next year’s season with one goal in mind: winning another state title.