2023 High School Team Of The Year: Stoneman Douglas


An acronym graced the back of the Stoneman Douglas High (Parkland, Fla.) practice shirts this year:


It stands for, “It’s Not About Me”, and the Eagles rode that “all for one” spirit all the way to a spotless 29-0 record, a Class 7A Florida state title and a final No. 1 ranking in Baseball America’s national poll.

“This was most selfless team I’ve ever been around,” Stoneman Douglas pitching coach Michael Cimilluca said. “No egos.”

It worked.

The Eagles were so dominant that they never trailed by more than one run in any game. They also never trailed past the third inning.

Only five teams were able to get one-run leads on Stoneman Douglas: Miami Springs; Park Vista; Monarch; McCarthy; and Spruce Creek in the state semifinals.

Out of Stoneman Douglas’ 943 plate appearances this year, it trailed in only 16 of them.

Stoneman Douglas faced teams with a 66.0 win percentage. Yet, the Eagles outscored their opponents 248-33, and, for the second straight year, they won their state final in five innings by virtue of the 10-run rule.

In fact, for the season, Stoneman Douglas hit more homers (35) than it allowed runs (33).

“You shoot for a state title every season, but you never think you will run the table,” said Stoneman Douglas’ Todd Fitz-Gerald, the first person ever to be named Florida Coach of the Year three consecutive times. “This was a special group.”

Indeed. The Eagles have won 51 straight games, the second-longest win streak ever by a Florida baseball team, trailing only Calvary Christian (60). Stoneman Douglas also has the longest active win streak in the nation.

The Eagles have won three straight state titles and have earned BA’s National Team of the Year honor three times overall (2016, 2022, 2023).

It’s especially noteworthy that the Eagles have accomplished all of this as a public school. In fact, the Eagles are the first Florida public school baseball team to go undefeated since 1945. And they are the only Florida public school baseball team to win three straight state championships.

In addition, Stoneman Douglas allowed zero or one run in 20 of its 29 games. Out of 186 innings pitched, Eagles pitchers allowed more than one run in just five of those frames.

The Eagles pitchers compiled a 0.87 ERA. Their hitters had a collective .342 batting average.

And that’s the thing about this Eagles squad: They did everything well.

Just ask their opponents.

“I have to give it to them—they pitched, they hit, they defended, they ran the bases,” said Howie Stein, the coach of a rival school, West Broward.

“Their pitchers threw a ton of strikes. Their hitters, when they faced elite arms, they battled long enough to get them out of the game.

“(Stoneman Douglas) played a great schedule. They were battle tested. They were far and away the best team in the state, and they were the best team in the country that I saw.”

The Eagles, who won the NHSI title in 2022, were invited back to defend their title. But they were unable to make the trip due to financial concerns.

Still, the Eagles accomplished all that they did despite not having anyone ranked among Baseball America’s list of the nation’s top 100 high school prospects for the 2023 class.

But don’t say the Eagles didn’t have a superstar—unless of course you want to pick a fight with Fitz-Gerald.

Stoneman Douglas righthander/outfielder Christian Rodriguez, rated the nation’s No. 122 senior, was outstanding this year, earning Fitz-Gerald’s fierce loyalty.

Rodriguez went 13-0 with a 0.69 ERA. As a batter, he hit .359 with eight doubles, one triple and six homers in 78 at-bats. He posted a 1.192 OPS.

Not surprisingly, Rodriguez was named the best player in the state—Mr. Florida Baseball.

Fitz-Gerald said Rodriguez’s size—6 feet, 195 pounds—is the only thing keeping him from the top of the draft charts.

“Tell me who’s better,” Fitz-Gerald said of Rodriguez, who has signed with Florida. “He’s an absolute bulldog.

“Christian throws 92-95 (mph), and he has more intangibles than any pitcher we faced all year. He has professionalism, a competitive spirit and the ability to take over a game because of his mental toughness.

“He has wide shoulders and is strong as hell. But he’s not 6-foot-2. Does that mean he’s not good?”

Rodriguez is most certainly good.

For his prep pitching career, Rodriguez went 31-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 312 strikeouts in 191 innings, and he also won a gold medal with Team USA’s U-18 National Team this past summer.

In the semifinals against top-rated Japan, Rodriguez inherited a bases-loaded situation, struck out the side without allowing a run while trailing 3-2 and went on to earn the 4-3 win.

“He’s a once-every-couple-decades player,” Cimilluca said. “No situation fazes him. He gives you everything he has for as long as he can.”

Stoneman Douglas’ No. 2 starter this year was another Florida recruit—junior righthander Jayden Dubanewicz, who went 11-0, with one save and a 1.17 ERA. He pitched a shutout in the state final.

Junior Gavin Gargiulo, who made eight of his 10 appearances in relief, went 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA and one save. The UCF recruit would start when Stoneman Douglas had three games in one week. Otherwise, he was the Eagles’ first choice out of the bullpen.

Sophomore Luke Cherry was Stoneman Douglas’ fourth pitcher. He posted a 0.44 ERA with two saves in 11 relief appearances, and he—along with Gargiulo—will likely have a larger role next year.

“We have 11 pitchers, and they all pushed each other and encouraged each other,” Cimilluca said. “The thing that made me the happiest all year was that every inning, when our guy walked off the mound, 10 of his fellow pitchers were there to greet him.”

Offensively, senior first baseman Matt Ossenfort—who is a Vanderbilt recruit—led the team in homers (10), RBIs (35), slugging percentage (.891) and OPS (1.408).

Ossenfort, who is from South Dakota, missed his freshman season due to the coronavirus pandemic. He missed his next two years after elbow surgery. Finally, his career got on track this year—but only after his father moved to South Florida to give Ossenfort the chance to play at Stoneman Douglas.

Given that Ossenfort was a newcomer to the team and the area, Rodriguez took it upon himself to take his new teammate to dinner in the fall, and they struck up a fast friendship.

“Christian said to me, ‘You’re from South Dakota. You must have a cowboy hat,’ and I did have one in my car,” Ossenfort said. “Christian grabbed it and said, ‘This has to be a new home run hat,’ and that’s what happened.”

Another Eagles star was junior shortstop Devin Fitz-Gerald, the coach’s son. Fitz-Gerald was second on the team in batting average (.410), and he led the starters in on-base percentage (.543).

Fitz-Gerald, a North Carolina State recruit, did not make a fielding error all season, handling 55 chances.

Stoneman Douglas’ leadoff batter was junior Alex Rodriguez, a center fielder who has committed to UCF. He hit .385 with a .585 on-base percentage and a 1.115 OPS. He also led the team with 41 runs scored.

“When he got on base, it was almost a sure run,” Stoneman Douglas hitting coach Will McCrimmon said. “For him, a single is like a triple (due to his team-high 23 steals in 24 tries).”

Junior Niko Benestad, a South Florida recruit, led a deep group of catchers. Benestad hit .351 with four homers and a 1.045 OPS. Sophomore Andrew Freeman, a Louisville recruit, and senior Cayden Freels, a Roanoke (Va.) signee, were the other Eagles catchers.

The other Stoneman Douglas starters included senior second baseman Alex Lazar, a Coker (S.C.) recruit; junior third baseman Rylan Lujo, a Dayton recruit; senior right fielder Dillon Moquin, who signed with Appalachian State; and senior left fielder Jackson Abram, an Adrian (Mich.) College recruit.

Moquin is another example of the selfless mentality for Stoneman Douglas. He waited three years to earn a starting job as he played behind current Florida players Jake Clemente and Chris Arroyo.

But it was worth the wait to be part of such a potent offense.

“The first time through our lineup, a pitcher can get us every once in a while,” McCrimmon said. “But the second or third time through, it’s hard to hold us down.

“Our hitters will look at charts to see where and what the pitchers are throwing. They will also talk to each other and make really good adjustments together.”

After all, “It’s Not About Me” with these Stoneman Douglas Eagles.

It’s about WWDY—We Will Dominate You.

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