Bloomingdale’s ‘Dudes’ Win Class 6A State Championship
The Bloomingdale Bulls did not hold anything back in pursuit of their first state championship this season. Following a thrilling victory in Friday’s state semifinal, the Bulls unleashed the same rabid energy that has fueled them this entire playoff run into Saturday’s title game. That relentless charge powered Bloomingdale to a 5-1 victory over the Fleming Island Eagles, in the Class 6A state final at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers.
The Bulls carried themselves with an energy both on and off the field that seemed to radiate throughout the stadium. When the final out dropped into the glove, that passion only erupted further as the team celebrated its first state championship in program history.
“It felt amazing. I got light-headed way too many times today,” senior Marlon Bowen admitted. “Just the energy, everybody on my team kept picking us up. If we did something that was slightly bad, we just made with it. Words cannot describe this feeling; it’s just amazing. It is just flat-out amazing.”
Four runs in the bottom of the third inning set the stage for the victory, and the Bulls (24-6) tacked on one last insurance run in the fifth. They pounded out 10 hits and nearly every offensive starter reached base to do their part. They played as a team and lifted each other up whenever it was needed.
“These are my boys; I live and die with them,” senior Gabe Garrett said. “We just did something that Bloomingdale High School has never achieved, and it is just awesome. Our fans have been supporting us since day one, and I’m pretty sure that they had no doubt in their minds that we were going to get here and we were going to win it.”
Bulls Manager Kris Wilken was just as confident in his guys. But having been to the same spot once before seven years ago, he also knew that there is no place for an early celebration.
“This is very special,” Wilken said. “As a coach, I tried not to look to that last out being made until that last out was up in the air, and then I finally just let everything go. Part of that was I did not want the players to get ahead of themselves. These are high school kids playing in a great environment on a great field in a big moment and I needed them to stay grounded and let’s finish this thing. It was amazing.”
Since the playoffs first started, the Bulls have been seemingly unstoppable.
“A few messages got across to my players this year, and the one that got across to them the most is to figure out what you want the most, figure out what you have to do to get there and don’t leave it in between there,” Coach Wilken said. “That is them. They knew we had to have energy, because that is who we are. They knew we had to play aggressive and put pressure on them all night, and they did it.”
No player epitomized that charge more than senior cleanup hitter Marlon Bowen, who continued his hot-hitting by going 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run. He had seven hits and 10 RBI in the team’s seven playoff games, while also serving as a spark plug that ignited the entire lineup.
“Marlon has been great. He had those crazy hustle plays that were just deflating for them,” Wilken said. “He was pretty special this whole run. He started the season down in the lineup but he quickly established himself as a run-producer for us. He may not be the biggest name, and he is not even committed yet, which is an absolute shame. But he played like he is the best player in Florida this week.”
Bowen delivered the back-breaking hit during the Bulls’ big third inning, unloading on a pitch to send it flying deep over the left fielder to the warning track to drive in two runs with a base-clearing triple that plated Garrett and Colby Shelton. That followed a string of hits that began after Donovan Dubuisson led off with a walk, as Drake Harman singled to right and Garrett bounced an RBI single through the left side to start the scoring. Shelton then found a hole through the right side of the defense to drive in another run and bring Bowen up.
Bowen was back at it again to produce a run in the fifth. After legging out a bunt single and sliding safely ahead of the throw to first, Bowen advanced to second on an error and then swiped third base. Jack Owens sent him the final ninety feet home by lofting an RBI single into shallow right field.
“One common theme that we have said is, ‘Dudes have got to be dudes’. The best players have got to play the best, and if there is one resounding thing that came out of these two games it is that my best players played their best,” Wilken said. “When they do that, they bring the other guys with them and they play better, and it relieves tension. When those best players are able to go out there and get hits and put good at bats together, than everybody feels like they can. Those guys at the top of my lineup, and those pitchers, they led the way. Dudes were dudes.”
The dudes on the mound also did their part. Starter David Eckaus battled through three tough innings against a very staunch Eagles lineup to earn the victory. Eckaus allowed one run on two hits and four walks, and he struck out two. His defense backed him up by turning two double plays to clean the bases.
David Chappell came on in relief and went the final four innings to record the save. The junior right-hander allowed three hits, but none of those base runners scored. Chappell earned his fourth save of the season, and his third straight during this title run.
Bloomingdale has reached the state tournament five times as a program, and advanced to the title game during the 2014 season to finish as the state runners up. The Bulls had been fighting to get back to that spot ever since.
A season ago, the Bulls were off to a 5-3 start and priming themselves to make a run at the title. But the global COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short and there were no playoffs. In a way, these Bulls completed the journey that the seven seniors from the Class of 2020 never got the chance to.
“We did think about this just before this game. We were saying that our team last year was so good, but this group of guys meshed really good, and that is why we are here today,” Garrett said. “It’s unexplainable. It’s just an experience that we wanted to achieve from day one. The workouts in the weight room, just everything we’ve done to accomplish and be here today, this is what it’s all about. It’s just amazing.”
Having seen how easily it all could be taken away, the Bulls returned to action this season with renewed vigor. Every player on the team knew that they were good enough to achieve this, and they did everything they had to in order to give themselves that chance.
“Last year when we had it taken away, we knew we had a shot at the same thing but we just didn’t have the opportunity to,” Bowen said. “This year we knew we had the same opportunity, so we took advantage of that this time. Thankfully, we got to play out the rest of the season and we worked hard, hours on hours, every single one of us.”