116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Josh Fitzgerald has baseball in his blood.
The Kirkwood sophomore is one of three siblings who have enjoyed successful careers that reached the college level. Jack Fitzgerald also played at Kirkwood before Houston Baptist. Ben Fitzgerald is currently playing for Louisiana-Lafayette.
The youngest sibling didn’t just want to match their accomplishments.
“I want to surpass them,” Fitzgerald said with a laugh after the Eagles trounced Des Moines Area Community College, 13-4, in seven innings at the NJCAA Region XI tournament Friday at Mount Mercy’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex. Kirkwood will face Iowa Central in the next round Saturday at 2 p.m.
Fitzgerald provided a spark for the Eagles, tallying two hits, including a double and two-run home run, three runs and two RBIs. He also made a defensive impact with a diving catch in right center field and a running grab in left center.
“Everybody sees the offensive numbers, but see the play he made in center, he’s done that all year for us,” Kirkwood Coach Todd Rima said. “Josh has a confidence around him that everyone rallies around. That’s the way his leadership style is and we feed off that.”
Fitzgerald was a prep standout for Mason City Newman and will play for Dallas Baptist next year. He has ascended to become a leader for Kirkwood, hitting .366 with a .513 on-base percentage. Fitzgerald has 64 hits and 80 runs, adding 24 steals. He does a little bit of everything for the Eagles.
“He’s one of the best players at the junior-college level,” Rima said. “He brings everything to the table and he’s a great kid to go with it.”
Much of that he credits to the examples set by his older brothers. They helped form his style and teach him the game, including weight training, baseball IQ and general knowledge.
“It was in our family,” Fitzgerald said. “They’ve helped me more than words can describe.”
Kirkwood trailed 2-0 when Fitzgerald led off a three-run third with a double and scored on an Alex Pendergast double. He turned the momentum in the Eagles’ favor.
“We were down and it got us going,” Rima said. “When he barreled up on that ball everyone else started doing it. They feed off him and his energy.”
He embraces his role as a leader. If he isn’t setting the table for his teammates to feast at the plate, Fitzgerald wants to put them in the right mindset for their turn.
“I just try to have a good at-bat,” Fitzgerald said. “Even if it doesn’t result in a hit, it gives the other guys confidence through the lineup that we can get on, whoever the pitcher is on the mound. It sets the tone of how to compete one through nine.”
The Eagles pulled away with four runs in the sixth and five in the seventh, invoking an eight-run mercy rule. In the final frame Fitzgerald blasted a two-run home run over the center field fence for his team-high 15th homer this season.
“I was on time with his fastball,” Fitzgerald said. “I was an outside pitch. I was lucky to barrel it.”
Two batters later, Pendergast hit a two-run shot to end the game. Pendergast finished with two hits and three RBIs. Justin Martinez led Kirkwood with three hits and added two RBIs, including a solo home run in the fourth.
The Eagles will face the Tritons for a spot in the regional final.
“We play a really good team in Iowa Central,” Rima said. “They hit, have a lot of pitching and are very talented. We have to show up ready to play. It’s a new day. Our guys will be ready. I know their excited.”