When the season started, the Stoneman Douglas baseball team had two highly-touted starting pitchers both of whom committed to the University of Miami.
A few games into the season, however, and ace Jesus Luzardo went down with a left elbow injury. Tommy John reconstructive surgery may have derailed Luzardo's senior season, but it didn't shut down the Eagles.
Brandon Kaminer, projected to be the Eagles' No. 2 starter, stepped right in and has felt right at home as Douglas' No. 1 guy.
Kaminer helped lead Douglas (25-2) to the state final four in the program's 23-year history.
Last week, Kaminer tossed a gem at Jupiter striking out nine in Douglas' 2-1 Region 3-9A title game victory as Luzardo -- who is still committed to the Hurricanes as his rehab is said to be ahead of schedule -- cheered them on from the dugout.
Heavy-hitting shortstop Colton Welker, also signed with UM, did the big damage with his bat, crushing a 3-1 pitch with two outs in the sixth over the left field fence for the deciding run.
"Our whole team rallied when Jesus got injured,'' coach Todd Fitz-Gerald said.
"Our guys didn't miss a beat. Brandon took the ball and knew he had a job to do and held the team together. He's done a great job.''
Said Kaminer: "It brought us closer together. We're doing this for [Jesus]."
The Eagles have long been one of South Florida's top regular season programs yet have struggled to take that next step.
Despite making the state regional playoffs in many of its first 20 seasons, the Eagles only played in one regional championship game before advancing to the past three under Fitz-Gerald.
Douglas lost to Lake Worth's Park Vista in the regional final the previous two seasons before beating host Jupiter last week.
The Eagles now face Winter Garden West Orange (27-2) in a Class 9A semifinal at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers Friday at 10 a.m. Maxpreps has Douglas ranked No. 3 nationally; the Warriors are ninth.
"We really haven't gotten over it, it was our biggest win of the year so far,'' Kaminer said. "This is really special for our program because it has brought us to another level. I knew this team could do it.''
The Eagles celebrated their victory in the outfield like little kids before posing for what seemed like hundreds of photos as friends and family celebrated alongside.
Although Fitz-Gerald wished his team didn't have 10 days between games because of the scheduling of the state finals, the week off may have helped temper Douglas' emotions.
"We let them enjoy the moment but now they're focused and are ready to get back at it,'' said Fitz-Gerald, who coached American Heritage to the state 3A title in 2008.
"We have to be sharp and crisp in everything we do right now. But they're excited about this opportunity and it's a first time. But we have guys with a lot of big-game experience. This isn't going to be overwhelming."
Just making it to state may have been the goal last week, but now the trip west is a reality, their ambitions are decidedly different.
Douglas would like to match Fort Lauderdale's Calvary Christian and bring a state championship trophy back to Broward County.
The Calvary Eagles won the Class 4A title in impressive fashion, outscoring their two opponents 18-2 last week.
Archbishop McCarthy looks to bring back its second consecutive championship and sixth in the past seven seasons when the Mavericks open the Class 6A semifinals on Wednesday.
"We want to win it all, we've come this far,'' Welker said. "There's no need to let up know. We know we can get it done. Winning the regionals is big, but this is a different ballgame now.''
IF YOU GO
What: The state baseball finals.
When: Wednesday through Saturday.
Where: jetBlue Park, 11500 Fenway South Drive, Fort Myers.
Admission: $9 per day; Parking: $10 for cars; $50 for fan buses.
Wednesday’s schedule – Class 6A semifinals: Naples Barron Collier vs. Lynn Haven Mosley, 10 a.m.; Archbishop McCarthy vs. Citra North Marion, 1; Class 5A semifinals: Jacksonville Bolles vs. Melbourne Central Catholic, 4; Monsignor Pace vs. Orlando Bishop Moore, 7.
Thursday’s schedule – Class 7A semifinals: Venice vs. St. Johns Creekside, 10 a.m.; Belen Jesuit vs. Tampa Gaither, 1; Class 6A final: 4:05; Class 5A final: 7:35.
Friday’s schedule – Class 9A semifinals: Douglas vs. Winter Garden West Orange, 10 a.m.; Columbus vs. Tampa Alonso, 1; Class 8A semifinals: Oviedo Hagerty vs. Ocala Forest, 4; Westland Hialeah vs. Tampa Steinbrenner, 7.
Saturday’s schedule – Class 7A final: 12:35; Class 9A final: 4:05; Class 8A final: 7:35.