When his game for the ages was over, all Josh Fitzgerald could do was smile.
On Thursday, on the perfectly manicured fields of Principal Park, the Newman Catholic baseball team secured a spot at the Class 1A state title game, beating Don Bosco 10-0 behind an otherworldly offensive performance from the Knights’ senior center fielder.
Fitzgerald finished the game 4-4, with two triples, a double, a bunt single, and four runs scored. Fitzgerald led off the game for Newman with triple off the left-field wall and scored the Knights' first run of the game on an RBI single from fellow senior Merritt McCardle, as the Knights scored two runs in the first.
Fitzgerald drove in Doug Taylor in the second inning with a triple off the center field wall as Don Bosco center fielder Dillon Welter lost the ball in the sun, then fell down while trying to retrieve it.
Fitzgerald then scored later in the inning on an RBI double from catcher Max Burt, and the Knights took a 4-0 lead. The Knights scored three more runs in the fourth inning when George Schmit led off with a single and advanced on a perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line from Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald and Burt also scored later in the inning, and the Knights’ lead grew to 7-0.
In the fifth, third baseman Doug Taylor and Schmit led off with successive singles, and then both scored on an RBI double from Fitzgerald. The senior center fielder then scored the final and clinching run of the game, as Jacob Schutt drew a bases-loaded walk to win the game for the Knights.
“It’s awesome,” head coach Alex Bohl said of Fitzgerald’s performance. “He’s definitely a catalyst. He makes our team go when he can do that. I’m very pleased with his effort, and hopefully we can carry it over into Saturday.”
For Fitzgerald, the win was a huge relief. As a senior, he wanted to play in one last championship game and to play his final game on the last day possible.
“The semifinal, it’s crazy nerves, because you want to be playing on the last day of the year,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s our goal, to play on the last possible day. It’s a relief for us. All of us seniors, it’s our last time playing together, we’re thankful we got as far as we possibly can.”
Senior Evan Paulus got the start for Newman Catholic and dominated the Dons. He went five full innings, surrendering no runs on just four hits, while striking out five batters.
“There is a reason why he threw today,” Bohl said. “That is what he’s been for us the last couple of years. He’s thrown in two title games, and the first two tournament games here. Being our senior ace, that’s what we expect from him.”
Like Fitzgerald, Paulus wanted to delay the end of his time at Newman Catholic for as long as he could. And with the final game of his high school career coming on the biggest possible stage, Paulus was excited to get to share the experience with his teammates.
“It’s special to get to play my last game at Newman on championship Saturday,” Paulus said. “It’s something almost no one gets to do in the state of Iowa, and getting to go back for a third straight year and compete for another title, it feels special for everybody, especially all the seniors. It’s just really fun.”
Paulus drew three intentional walks at the plate. His .424 batting average and 13 home runs on the season tends to cause teams to avoid pitching to him with runners on base.
“We have some fun with it,” Paulus said. “The only thing that is rough is not seeing the live pitch, but you can’t really do anything about it. My job is to go get on base, and when you’re getting intentionally walked, you’re getting on base.”
The walks didn’t appear to help Don Bosco much as the Knights' deep lineup made up for any losses caused by the Dons taking the bat out of Paulus’ hands. It wasn’t the first time it has happened, as Newell-Fonda gave him four free passes in the substate title game on July 23.
“We see Evan get intentionally walked, we just shake our heads and laugh,” Fitzgerald said. “We have five other guys that are going to be able to hit. Evan can run for his size, and we can hit, so Evan is going to be able to score. You can either walk him and he’s going to score, or he’s going to hit a bomb.”
With the win, the Knights advance to the Class 1A state final for the third straight season. The championship game will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Principal Park against #2 Alburnett (34-5).
“To be there again, you never want to take it for granted,” Bohl said. “It’s a very special moment, and an awesome opportunity for these guys to play on the last regular season day. We’re excited to get back and play Saturday.”