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One-two punch lifted Marauders

Justin O'Keeffe and Shawn Williams pitched (and hit) CCC to the Class 2A state championship.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 9, 2002

Justin O'Keeffe and Shawn Williams pitched (and hit) CCC to the Class 2A state championship.

When pitchers Justin O'Keeffe and Shawn Williams made the varsity team as freshmen, coach Todd Vaughan knew he was looking at Clearwater Central Catholic's future.

He knew they would grow into stars. He knew they would be the backbone of his offense, defense and pitching staff.

He even knew that quite possibly, they would bring CCC a state title. Vaughan proved to be a smart guy. This season, O'Keeffe and Williams became everything their coach thought they would, leading the Marauders to the Class 2A state title. They were different in so many ways -- O'Keeffe relied on finesse, Williams, power -- and yet very much alike when it came to the art of the clutch performance.

Because they were so integral to CCC's success and almost never had a bad game, separating the two is an impossible, almost unfair task. So why bother.

Williams and O'Keeffe are the Times All-Pinellas County Co-Players of the Year, and Vaughan is the Coach of the Year.

This year more than many others, the decision was a difficult one made easy by a series of impressive postseason performances.

Impossible to ignore, the state title gave the Marauders an edge in an impressive field of candidates, from Dunedin slugger Brian Dopirak and teammate and mound ace Ryan Harvey to East Lake's do-it-all Tyler Huegel to Northside Christian's wildly talented Lastings Milledge.

"Going into the season, we knew when we got down to the final seven games, it would be us pitching every other game," O'Keeffe said. "We were excited about that. There was no pressure because we liked having everything on us and felt like teams couldn't beat us.

"And it helped that a lot of (our teammates) told us how confident they were when we pitched; that they felt the game was over before it started." Together, they won 24 games (with Williams setting a school record with 13 and O'Keeffe going 11-0). They saved three others. They combined for 208 strikeouts, an ERA of less than 1.00 and nearly were as good at the plate. O'Keeffe hit .370, and Williams led CCC with eight homers and 29 RBIs.

They took turns pushing the Marauders to the 2A state title, each topping their teammate's previous effort.

O'Keeffe won the district final. Williams followed with a one-hitter and region quarterfinal win.

O'Keeffe won the regional semifinal 4-0 (with a Williams save). Williams beat Winter Park Trinity Prep 2-1 in the region final.

Williams won the state semifinal (with an O'Keeffe save). O'Keeffe then tossed a three-hitter against Miami Florida Christian, No.20 in USA Today, to win state 5-0.

In the end, it was a handful of performances that will rank in the annals of county playoff history.

"It's kind of hard to believe it all now that everything's over with," O'Keeffe said. "It's finally sunk in what we accomplished and how hard it actually was.

"It was hard to win those last seven, and looking back, it kind of puts me in awe. It really was an amazing accomplishment."

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