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Sharp debut for new coach

Rob Francis took to the newly memorialized Lee Byers Field at East Lake on Tuesday as the first new coach since Byers retired last season after 15 years with Eagles.

Francis guided the Eagles to a 4-1 win over Clearwater Central Catholic in the season opener for both in the Lee Byers Invitational, named for the coach who had 546 wins.

The chilly, preseason atmosphere didn't disrupt either of the county's forecasted front-runners from showcasing in front of a pack of scouts and other schools. Sam Mende opened with a leadoff double for CCC in the first inning, but the Marauders were otherwise shut down until East Lake starting pitcher Shawn Kale left after the fifth inning, striking out nine and scattering seven hits with a three-run lead.

The Eagles went single, single, walk, single, single in the second inning, bringing home Matt Gracie, Evan Huegel, Drew Turnier and Matt Romary (2-for-3) for four runs in seven at-bats. Charlie Olson started for CCC and was replaced after two. Mike Papa was 2-for-3 with an RBI for the Eagles.

CCC's Riley Cooper, a projected top 20 draft pick by, presumably drew many of the talent scouts and went 2-for-3, driving in the Marauders' only score in the fourth inning. He singled in Brett McKean, who doubled before him. CCC worked with bases loaded in the sixth inning, and two on in the seventh but came up short.

"I was glad to see we came back with something in the end," said CCC coach Todd Vaughan, whose team gave preseason state favorites Bishop Verot a 12-4 loss last week. "Our relief stopped the bleeding. And Riley showed a lot today."

"These are going to be two of the best clubs in the county at the end of the year," said Francis.