Double-Dozen: McDonald leads Sickles to state semi win

Sickles senior Caden McDonald celebrates the final out of the Gryphons Class 6A State Semifinal win against Winter Springs. McDonald pitched a complete-game, one-hitter to pick up his 12th win. He gave his team the early lead as well, with his 12th homer of the season. 

By Jarrett Guthrie, Editor
Photos by Chuck Frye

FORT MYERS – Winter Springs two-hole hitter Marco Gonzalez slowly walked back to the dugout in the seventh inning after Sickles ace Caden McDonald recorded the first out of the frame with his seventh strikeout.

“What was that, 96 (MPH)?,” he asked teammates as he descended the dugout steps.

In the postgame, Gryphons senior catcher Justin Allen confirmed: “It was at least 96.”

If you enjoy our coverage please support us with a donation by clicking here.

Absolute dealing, dominance and discipline – a double-dozen for the Gryphons all-everything senior captain.

McDonald dealt a complete-game one-hitter as Sickles defeated the Bears 2-0 in the FHSAA Class 6A state semifinal – booking the Gryphons a first-ever spot in the state title game against Viera, Wednesday at 2 p.m. at Fort Myers’ Hammond Stadium.

“That was honestly one of the hardest pitches I’ve ever thrown in my life,” McDonald said of his strike-three pitch in the seventh. “Obviously, I was amped up. I wanted the ball more than I’ve ever wanted it before.

“That’s an inning I’ve been waiting for my whole life. The last time I’m going to pitch for my high school, the last time I’m going to have Justin as my catcher. It’s bittersweet, but I wanted to end it as well as I started it.”

The win, McDonald’s 12th of the year, was bolstered early when the University of Central Florida-signed senior flicked an opposite-field, first-pitch fastball over the wall in right field to give his team the lead.

“Last year (in a state semifinal loss to Doral Academy) we didn’t get going and it took until like the fourth inning,” McDonald said. “I really wanted … to get something going early, settle the nerves, get us in the game and get everyone amped up.”

Caden McDonald (2-for-2, with a walk) measures up a first-pitch fastball for a homer in the first inning.

With that first-inning run in pocket, senior Connor Vance said the Gryphons felt secure things would go their way with McDonald doing the work on the mound.

“It gives us an insane amount of confidence,” Vance said, “especially, when he’s just shutting them down like that. He throws it like that every time and it just gives us that boost.”

Gryphons senior Connor Vance settles under a pop fly to left field.

From his crouch behind the plate, Allen had the best view of McDonald’s consistency that stretched all the way to his final start on the mound.

“We can’t ask for anything more,” Allen said of his battery-mate. “He gave us everything we needed, he was a dog on the mound and got us started offensively – he’s a catalyst on our team. He really gets us going.”

Catcher Justin Allen makes a foul pop catch.

McDonald carried a perfect-game into the fifth inning before Winter Springs (19-10-1) captain Jacob McKenzie sent a ground ball into centerfield for his team’s only hit. McDonald let one go and moved the runner up a base, but it was the only thing close to trouble the righty faced.

“We had a freaking outstanding outing by Caden on the mound,” Luksis said. “To give us seven-strong like that is magnificent and sets us up really well for tomorrow – on top of the home run he hit in the first to help himself out.”

In support of McDonald’s work, the Gryphons defense was near flawless, co-captain Hayden Yost in center and Connor Vance in left hauled in flyballs all game, and sophomore Jordan Yost played tidy work at second base.

“I felt like the way the defense played – Hayden was fantastic in centerfield, Connor was good in left,” McDonald said, “it looked like our whole defense was settled down and did everything they could in the chances they had.”

Senior centerfield Hayden Yost runs down a fly ball. 

Vance lined a single into right with one away in the third, and three batters later Allen provided some insurance sending in the runner from second all the way to the plate with a single up the middle.

Gryphons junior first baseman Thomas Bly congratulates Justin Allen after the catcher leaves the field (for a courtesy runner) after his RBI single. 

The Gryphons third captain, Luke Fikar dropped down a beautiful bunt for a base hit, and also tripled to the wall in right. But the two runs would be all the Gryphons (29-2) would put up as McKenzie made a tremendous back-pick throw to get Fikar sleeping off the bag at third.

Luke Fikar on first base after his bunt single – one of his two hits in the win.

The top-seeded Gryphons will be the home team on Wednesday in the final against Viera (24-5), after Hawks defeated last year’s state champions Doral Academy, 3-0, in the morning semifinal.

“Last year it was just nice to be here, we were a younger group and some might say we overachieved to a certain degree,” Luksis said. “… It was a little bit of a celebration just to be here … this year, the celebrations weren’t there and we’ve had the motto, ‘complete the mission.

“The job is not done yet.”

Class 6A State Semifinal ⚾

Sickles 2, Winter Springs 0

W 000|000|0 – |0|1|0
S  101|000|x – |2|7|0
W – McDonald (12-1); L – Loubier
3B – Fikar (S); HR – McDonald (S). Records – W (19-10-1); S (29-2).