The Bloomingdale High School baseball program made history, winning its first state title. The Bulls defeated Fleming Island High School 5-1 in the FHSAA Class 6A State Championship on May 22 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
“I instantly felt a rush of adrenaline as soon as he hit the fly ball my way, and once it was in my glove, I just thought, ‘We did it,’” said senior outfielder Marlon Bowen, who took home MVP honors with his 4-for-5 weekend. “It was only excitement going through my head.”
Bowen, who was arguably the heart and soul of the Bulls, was in the middle of the order, hitting fourth with a .382 batting average and a team high 25 runs batted in. It was Bowen’s first season as a starting varsity player after sitting behind star slugging outfielder Dominic Gonnella. He started the season hitting at the bottom of the order before later breaking through in a big way. He had the key hit against Fleming Island with a triple over the left fielder’s head, driving in two runs and extending the Bull’s lead to 4-0 in the third inning.
After beating St. Petersburg High School 3-2 in the district championship, Bloomingdale (24-6) had a string of close wins leading up to the state final. They had a 7-4 comeback victory against Gaither High School after trailing 4-1 early on, defeated Mitchell High School 2-1 and finished off Gulf Coast High School 4-3 to claim their first regional title since 2014. The Bulls used stellar defense, great base running and timely hitting to beat Dwyer High School to reach their first state title game since the team came up a little bit short against South Dade High School in the 2014 state championship game.
Fourteen-year Head Coach Kris Wilken said that he had his most complete team this season in all facets of the game, including pitching, defense, base running and hitting. The 2021 Bulls had more wins (24) than any other team led by Wilken. He said that his team’s mental toughness is what made the difference.
“You can have teams like that that are very complete; if they are not mentally tough and have the heart, it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “When we got to the playoffs, we were very complete, but so were all the teams we played. These kids just wanted it more, and nothing was going to get in their way.”
The Bulls got a boost from an unlikely source—junior relief pitcher Chase Chappell, who hadn’t been tapped in nearly a month prior to the regional final. He recorded saves in two straight playoff wins leading up to the final. When he was called upon in relief of senior Florida International University signee David Eckaus in the fourth inning, he promptly got out of a jam with runners on first and second with no outs and an inherited 2-0 count.
He recorded the last 12 outs to preserve his team’s 5-1 victory. Wilken said that Chappell fixed something in his mechanics during a team scrimmage before the regional final, and that, along with his cool demeanor and competitiveness, gave Wilken the confidence to use him as his number one reliever.
“My mindset going into the game was to get outs and compete like I know I can,” said Chappell. “My goal was to get out of that inning with the least amount of damage done, and we did that as a team. It was a little nerve-wracking going in, but I knew we could do damage control and get out of it.”
Catcher Wyatt Strickland, who helped lead the pitching staff all season long, calling almost every pitch, also went 2-for-3 in the championship game. He was impressed with Chappell’s poise in the biggest game of the year.
“I had no doubt that Chase was going to finish the game,” he said. “His curveball and fastball were really working for him. Our pitchers were consistent throughout the season and were dominant on the mound, and our hitters were locked in throughout the playoffs.”
The Bulls are expected to make another run for the title next season with 16 returning players, including shortstop and Clemson University commit Colby Shelton, ace pitcher and Stetson University commit Jack Owens and leadoff hitter Drake Harman.
“Next year’s seniors sure have a hard expectation to live up to, because this year wasn’t easy at all,” said Bowen. “With that being said, I know that they can overcome anything if they stick together and build a bond with each other.”