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CLEARWATER - Clearwater Central Catholic's Matt Darr stood down the rightfield foul line, 15 feet from coach Todd Vaughn. The senior catcher adjusted his mask, squatted and braced himself.
"I think Vaughn kind of enjoys it, " Darr said.
"It" would be firing balls with a fungo bat at Darr, an exercise the coaching staff performs to acclimate catchers to blocking pitches. Considering this cuts 45 feet off where a pitcher throws off the mound, the casual fan might find the drill perplexing.
"I love it, " Darr said. "I take pride in my defense."
So do the rest of the Marauders. It's a big reason CCC (22-4) hosts Melbourne Central Catholic on Friday night at 7.
"Our pitchers aren't strikeout-type guys, " Vaughn said. "It helps the defense has to stay on its toes."
CCC's philosophy isn't predicated on ground-breaking techniques: hit the cutoff man, make the routine play, back up bases.
"We don't have flashy (defensive) players, " Vaughn said. "But they're intelligent kids who know where to be."
As with any good defense, CCC is strong up the middle. Shortstop Sam Mende, second baseman Matt Morelli and centerfielder Jimmy Dowdell join Darr through the heart of CCC's defense.
"Dowdell, like the rest of our outfielders, isn't a burner out there, " Vaughn said. "But his instincts are outstanding. He knows when to dive after a ball and when to lay back."
Vaughn is confident in his defense and even more so in his backstop. The 19-year CCC veteran coach lets Darr call pitches, a rarity in high school baseball.
"He's a smart player and he spends a lot of time with the pitchers off the field, " Vaughn said. "I trust him to work the sequences of pitches and if need be, we'll coach between innings."