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OLE MISS LURES AWAY EAGLES' BASEBALL COACH

From an Eagle to a Rebel.

East Lake baseball coach Rob Francis is stepping down to become the director of baseball operations at the University of Mississippi.

"It's a great opportunity at a top-notch, nationally ranked program," Francis said. "My wife and I fell in love with the Oxford campus and I'm looking forward to contributing there."

Francis' responsibilities include assisting head coach and former Seminole star Mike Bianco with organizing practice, travel plans and "whatever voids need to be filled." Francis, who broke the news to his team Wednesday night, said his resignation takes effect Sunday.

"It was an extremely tough decision, because from the administration, to the faculty, to the parents, to the players, East Lake has been great to me," Francis said. "I was in no way unhappy (at East Lake), but this is a chance to work for one of the best coaches and programs in the country."

Ole Miss finished 40-25 last season and was ranked No. 17 by Baseball America. The Rebels have hosted four NCAA regionals and two Super Regionals since 2003. Francis previously coached at Florida Gulf Coast University and Seminole before accepting the East Lake position two years ago.

SIGNINGS AND TRANSFERS: Northeast's Dan Catalano (Pasco-Hernando Community College) and Kevin Riley (Clearwater Christian College) have signed for next season, Vikings coach Eric Wagman confirmed Tuesday. Catalano, a Times' first-team all-county selection after hitting .388 with a team-high 11 doubles as a senior, will be joined at PHCC by former Northeast star Joey Tribou, who transferred after his freshman season at Barry.

LYTLE SIGNS: Largo senior forward Charlie Lytle signed with Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. Lytle, a 6-foot-8, 195-pound forward, was a Times' all-Suncoast first-team selection after leading the Packers to the region semifinals. He also set the school's career record for blocked shots with 172.

USF OFFERS SPOT TO JOHNSON: Largo quarterback/defensive back Leonard Johnson received an offer from USF. Johnson has offers from more than a dozen schools, including Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.

ALDERMAN SIGNS: Clearwater Central Catholic's Gilbert Alderman signed with Division II Gannon University in Erie, Pa. Last year, Alderman recorded 61 tackles and defended 17 passes in his first season as a full-time starter.

Times staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.

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