CLEARWATER — Clearwater Central Catholic's 5-2 domination of Lakeland McKeel was just a few days old, and the Marauders had already turned their attention forward.
"We're always looking forward to moving on and playing that next game," CCC shortstop Preston Packrall said.
Never mind that the Marauders had jumped out to a big lead against McKeel. Never mind that CCC got a seven-strikeout, complete-game performance from starter Patrick Camporini. Never mind CCC breezed through the region quarterfinals for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
That's because the real test comes tonight.
The Marauders host Tampa Catholic in the Class 3A, region semifinals. And CCC knows rivalry games against district opponents carry extra meaning, require extra emphasis and can define seasons.
"Tampa Catholic has Jesuit, and we have St. Petersburg Catholic," Marauders coach Todd Vaughan said. "But the CCC-TC rivalry has always been a pretty big rivalry."
Each of the three region semifinal games in the county involve district teams that got to know each other well this season. Seminole and Dunedin are playing for the fifth time tonight in Class 5A, with Dunedin holding a 3-1 edge. And Shorecrest and Northside Christian are facing each other for the fourth time tonight in 2A, with Shore-crest having won all three.
But Tampa Catholic and Clearwater Central Catholic have as much history — and hardware — as any other rivalry in the area. Both programs have combined to win 13 state titles.
"We've been in a district for decades," Vaughan said of the rivalry. "It used to be that whoever got out of the district would go on to state. We hope it gets to be that way again."
The teams will be playing each other for the fifth time this season. The Marauders lost the first one, but since then, they have won three straight.
"It's a tough deal to have to go out and beat a team for the fourth time," Vaughan said. "But that doesn't mean we wish hadn't won each of those games. They all meant something in our season."
CCC's first win against the Crusaders came in the Dunedin tournament and ended a three-game losing streak in the rivalry that dated to last season. The second win helped the Marauders secure the No. 2 seed for the district tournament. And the last victory wrapped up the district title.
"After winning in the Dunedin tournament, we figured out that if we work as a team we can be pretty successful," Packrall said. "Since then, we've played pretty well."
Packrall, a senior, has been on both sides of the rivalry. He played his first two seasons at Tampa Catholic before transferring to CCC.
"It was a little different at first playing against your former teammates," Packrall said. "I try to treat it as another game, but we still get pumped up for each other because we're in the same district."
To advance, the Marauders have to continue to get timely hits from key contributors, such as catcher James Petika and Packrall. And the deep pitching staff has to continue to keep hitters off balance.
"In all of those wins, we've really played great team ball," Vaughan said. "That's what we need to continue to do."