Original Florida Pokers go back-to-back at Perfect Game BCS National Championships image

Original Florida Pokers go back-to-back at Perfect Game BCS National Championships

If you ask head coach Todd Fitz-Gerald, the Original Florida Pokers 2024 are just “a little old travel team from a bunch of local high schools throughout the area.”

That’s the line he gave to Perfect Game’s Hannah Jo Groves after the Pokers won a second-straight BCS National Championship on Thursday. Fitz-Gerald isn’t lying either. Unlike some travel teams that play in national tournaments (such as the BCS) with all-state rosters, the Pokers are made up of local high school players from Broward and Palm Beach County. However, the bulk of the team plays for Fitz-Gerald at Marjory Stoneman Douglas during the high school season and is coming off a third-straight state and national title.

There’s no denying that the Pokers 17U roster is one of the most feared in the entire nation, and things will probably stay that way after finishing on top of a 108-team field in Fort Myers. The Pokers defeated the USA Prime 17U Scout Team, 5-3, in the championship game, capping off a 9-0-1 run over six days in Fort Myers. They also avenged their only loss of the summer (an 11-3 defeat in the Final Four of the PG East Memorial Day Classic) with a 7-3 comeback win against the CBU 2024 Scout Team earlier in the day.

Perhaps the biggest moment of the tournament came in the bottom of the fifth inning against CBU when AJ Perry (Calvary Christian Academy, ‘24) entered the game as a pinch hitter for Ethan Askin (Douglas, ‘24) and tripled in Erick Torres (Douglas, ‘25) to put the Pokers within one.

EJ Burns (Taravella, FGCU ‘24 commit) tied the game later on in the inning with a sacrifice fly to left that scored Perry. Askin, who coaches describe as the ultimate team guy and best bunter on the roster, re-entered the game in the bottom of the sixth with Gavin Gargiulo (Douglas, UCF ‘24 commit) on third and Payton Miller (Independence-Ten., ‘24) also in scoring position.

He laid one down back to the pitcher, scoring Gargiulo, advancing Miller and reaching safely at first base. The Pokers had not only taken a 4-3 lead but also opened the floodgates for a deciding four-run inning. A couple of passed balls led to Miller scoring, and then Rylan Lujo (Douglas, Dayton ‘24 commit) delivered the dagger — a two-run double to center field.

Lujo led the entire tournament with 14 hits and six doubles. His eight RBIs were second on the team to Niko Benestad’s (Douglas, USF ‘24 commit) 11 runs batted in.

Brayden McCluskey (Douglas, ‘24) closed out the final 4 2/3 innings of the semifinal game against CBU. He entered the game in the bottom top of the third with the bases loaded and got a key pair of strikeouts to escape the jam. His clutch performance was one of many from the Pokers over the week.

Gavin Gargiulo (Douglas, UCF ‘24 commit) and JP Querales (West Broward, ‘24) both threw a tournament-high 10 innings, with Gargiulo winning Pitcher of the Tournament. His seven-inning shutout was the cherry on top of a an incredible day from the entire pitching staff. The Pokers gave up just one unearned run over three games and 19 innings on Wednesday. Five arms combined for 20 strikeouts and zero walks. Click here for more notes from Wednesday at the BCS.

In the championship game, the left-handed duo of Breylynn Courtney (Douglas, ‘25) and Dane Rossi (Heritage-Delray, ‘24) kept the USA Prime Scout Team at bay for most of the championship game. Errors in the second inning led to an unearned run for USA Prime, but Courtney recovered and kept the opposing bats quiet through the fifth inning.

USA Prime got to Courtney in the sixth for three-straight hits and a pair of runs, but Rossi came in and shut things down. A pickoff move to get the lead runner at second made a wild pitch later on harmless. A strikeout led to an easy line out to right, ending the threat. Fortunately, the Pokers had already established a four-run lead over the first five innings.

Burns scored in the first after moving around the bases on a bad pickoff attempt, and Benestad drove in Lujo to complete a two-run first. The Pokers added three more runs in the fifth: two on wild pitches and another off an Alex Rodriguez (Douglas, UCF ‘24 commit) sacrifice fly.

Rossi surrendered a four-pitch walk in the ninth, but he got the other three outs with ease, inducing a pair of pop-ups on a first-pitch line out.

On top of the mountain once again, with a final of 5-3, there’s nothing to do but celebrate.

Following a second-straight tournament win, the Pokers head back to West Palm Beach for a pair of tournaments in July: the Perfect Game Florida World Series (7/7-7/10) and the Prospect Select Palm Beach Open (7/14-7/18).