Clearwater Central Catholic enters this week's Dunedin Spring Tournament as the favorite. The Marauders (10-0) are not only undefeated but highly motivated.
CCC's chance of advancing to last year's final ended in odd fashion. The Marauders had the bases loaded against East Lake in the semifinal with one out in the seventh inning and trailing 2-1. An infield grounder led to a force out at home. Then the runner going to first was called out for interference, which ended the game.
"That was a big loss for us," senior pitcher David Paul said. "It broke our (16-game) win streak."
This season CCC is just as hot. The Marauders are coming off a 4-1 win over East Lake on Thursday. The Eagles are not in the Dunedin tournament this season, opting to play in an Orlando tournament.
Also absent is last year's winner, Lynn Haven Mosley. With no defending champion, CCC wears the target.
"We're in a stretch right now where we get out of the districts and we can kind of relax a little bit," CCC coach Todd Vaughan said. "Those district games are must-win games for us. So now we get to play teams within our county, which the kids like.
"We get to play four games in five days, which puts you in tournament mode. You need quality starts and quality hitting. Can you do it? Can you, as a high school student, get your mind right over and over and over? If you can we'll be okay, and if you can't we'll suffer."
And there are plenty of teams that can knock CCC off. Osceola is always tough with the 1-2 pitching duo of Keith Weisenberg and Buddy Dougherty. The Warriors won this tournament in 2012.
If Countryside's bats ever wake up, the Cougars could be in the hunt. The same is true for Pinellas Park.
Inspiration Academy is a new school in Bradenton and only plays varsity baseball. This season the Lions are 11-3 with wins over mostly smaller schools.
The tournament will have a new feel this year. For the first time in 16 years it will not be run by Dunedin coach Tom Hilbert, who resigned to become a coach at St. Petersburg College.