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Pinellas teams eye state berths in tough finals // CLEARWATER CENTRAL CATHOLIC

The scene was eerily familiar. Clearwater Central Catholic was leading Avon Park 6-2 early in a Class 3A regional semifinal Friday night. Most of the Marauder faithful remembered what happened last year, when their team took a 6-2 lead against Fort Myers Bishop Verot in the regional opener.

CCC went on to lose that game.

The second time around, however, things were different. CCC coach Todd Vaughan said the difference was experience. His team filled with sophomores had matured into the sixth-ranked team in the state _ one win shy of a final four appearance.

"I didn't think about it," Vaughan said of last year's loss. "I was just thinking we need to get past this game to play again."

CCC crushed the Red Devils 12-2 and will play host to the No. 1 team in Florida _ Ft. Pierce John Carroll (28-3) _ today at 4 p.m. The last time CCC met the Golden Rams was in 1979 when Vaughn helped the Marauders to a state title as a player.

He has coached at CCC ever since, the last nine as the head coach, and said only once since then has he finished a season feeling "ecstatic." The Marauders reached the final four in 1994 and were second in '91.

Not much has changed since Vaughan last saw a John Carroll team. Both teams continue to play some of the best baseball in the state and that's just how Vaughan likes it.

"You can always sit there and say you would rather face somebody who is not as strong," he said. "But you have to beat somebody highly ranked to be considered the best."

The mature Marauders have a host of talent beginning with junior Aaron Diehl (10-1), who earned the win against Avon Park and will start on four days' rest. With teams keying on highly touted prospect Patrick Boyd (.444), P.J. Lavenia has flourished and, after moving from catcher to leftfield, leads the team with a .463 average.

Vaughan also singled out shortstop Chris Hart as being "a real solid leadoff hitter," and Brady Williams and Steve Patterson, who have put in solid innings behind Diehl. With a team batting average of .334, Vaughan calls hitting the key to CCC's 23-9 season.

The Marauders will need to devour St. Lucie County's second-best pitcher in junior Tucker Rigsby, who has missed the post-season with tendinitis. He will be making his first start since compiling a regular-season record of 8-0 with a 0.27 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 52 innings. Mike Coleman (.506, 35 RBI) leads the Rams' offense.

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