FORT MYERS — As championship teams usually do, Bloomingdale found another gear when it counted most.
Where Orange Park Fleming Island seemed content to move station to station on base hits during Saturday night’s Class 6A state championship game, the Bulls were looking to exert some pressure on their opponent.
It wasn’t a style they were totally familiar with.
“Honestly, it’s not something we’ve done all year,” Bloomingdale coach Kris Wilken said. “We’ve been a very offensive team where we could just sit back and hit. But with the arms we were facing in this tournament, I didn’t think it was the best option. Putting pressure on the defense was going to play well and it worked out for us.”
Sparked by the all-out play of leftfielder Marlon Bowen along with junior relief pitcher Chase Chappell, the Bulls rode the momentum of that move to aggression to a 5-1 verdict over the Golden Eagles at Hammond Stadium.
“I put my body on the line every time if it counts for my teammates,” Bowen said. “My dad, Rowle Bowen, taught me that. Whatever will help us win.”
First, the senior let his bat do the talking, lashing a triple that one-hopped the leftfield fence and brought senior Gabe Garrett and junior Colby Shelton (who had RBI singles) around to score to cap a four-run third inning.
“Coach (Wilken) told me before the game that I wasn’t going to get many pitches to hit because of (Friday’s state semifinal in which he had two hits and two walks),” Bowen said. “I saw a pitch that was middle-in and I sure took one big swing.”
The blast was the one of five straight hits for the Bulls (23-6), but Bowen wasn’t done.
With two outs in the fifth, Bowen saw the third baseman playing back and laid down a bunt, barely beating the throw to first base with a head-first slide. While Fleming Island beefed about the call, Bowen scooted to second, then advanced to third on a wild pitch. From there, he scored an important insurance run when junior Jack Owens lined a single to rightfield.
“That was huge for us,” Bowen said. “I’ve got to give it to Jack, he’s been big in clutch situations for us.”
Also delivering with the pressure on was Chappell, who earned back his role throwing in high-leverage situations on a “gut feeling” by Wilken.
“Toward the end of the regular season, Chase was struggling a little bit and we went to (other options) at the end of games,” Wilken said. “But I felt like he was the right guy in the regional final, he came in and just pitched unbelievably. (Friday night) in the seventh inning, he was great, and he was definitely the guy (Saturday).”
Stepping in for tiring senior starter David Eckaus with a pair of runners on and none out in the fourth, the right-hander yielded a pair of hits and an RBI sacrifice fly from Jacob Broussard, but used some hustle of his own to quell the threat.
With the bases loaded, junior first baseman Carlos DeJesus snagged a ground ball and decided to throw to second and start a double play. DeJesus couldn’t get back to the bag for shortstop Shelton’s return throw, but Chappell was there, hustling over to snag the throw just before Gavin Billingsley touched the bag.
“I’ve done that for the past three years of my life, getting off the mound to first base,” he said. “Every single practice we do pitching/fielding drills and that’s one of the main things we work on.”
Chappell (no walks, one strikeout) shut the door after that, retiring nine of the last 10 batters he faced with only three balls leaving the infield.
“We talk about how dudes got to be dudes,” Wilken said. “My guys at the top of the order are dudes and they came out and played extremely well in this tournament. You have to have that. Your best players have to play their best and they did.”
“It feels so unreal, it feels like I’m in a dream,” Chappell said. “I’m so happy; it’s just so surreal.”
“I’m going to take this in until the end of summer and even when college starts,” Bowen said of his final, and most important, high school game of his career. “This is the biggest.”