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Cypress Bay Defeats Defending Champion St. Thomas In Opener

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Last season, the St. Thomas baseball team ended their season in a dog pile in Fort Myers after claiming the 8A state title. Cypress Bay’s 2018 season ended with a defeat at Douglas in the regional quarterfinals.

Monday afternoon, the two teams met in the 2019 season opener, and Cypress Bay showed why they have been one of the most hyped teams coming into the season.

Behind a strong pitching performance by Tyler Nejaime, and a late three-run home run from Cesar Franco, the Lightning took down the defending champs 7-3.

“We have been working hard to create a culture of doing the right thing,” said Cypress Bay Manager Bo Diaz. “Not just on the field, but also in the classroom, how we conduct ourselves. Today it paid off. These kids have worked hard to get where they are. We play strong defense, and if the bats come around like they did today, we are going to be ok.”

It was the Raiders that struck first, continuing the offense prowess they showed all last year. In the bottom of the first inning, with the emotions of opening day running high, Alex Romance dropped a two-run home run to give St. Thomas a 2-0 lead.

Cypress Bay had trouble with Raiders starter Nate Thomas, who did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. The Lightning, however, was able to use a patient approach to work six walks, and take a 4-2 lead into the bottom of the fifth.

“We know that we have to work the counts and try to produce runs with execution,” said Diaz. “Today, we took what they gave us and the kids did a great job of being aggressive when we had our opportunities.”

In their half of the fifth, St. Thomas cut the lead to 4-3. Nejaime ran into an issue with his command after shutting the Raiders down for three straight innings, and after loading the bases, Nejaime was able to bear down and close the rally down with a strikeout. He finished the day giving up three runs, while striking out five.

“I felt good today,” said Nejaime. “I left a pitch up early and they hit it out, but after that I was able to locate and get outs.”

In the seventh, Cypress Bay received the insurance they needed when Franco launched a three-run home run to put the Lightning up 7-3.

“I was in the on deck circle and I wasn’t feeling comfortable,” said Franco. “Then, I made an adjustment and decided to stay back. When I got to the plate, I got a pitch I could handle and I put a good swing on it, and it went out.”

The Lightning closed the game out wit two shutout innings from Xavier Medina, and suddenly the team that has been overlooked, was front and center.

“We know that we can be a very good team,” said Nejaime. “We have worked hard, and even though we won today, we know it’s a long season. This game is over, and now we have tro get ready for the next one. If we play the way we are capable of, we know we can be where we want to be at the end of the year.”

As for the Raiders, Manager Troy Cameron understands that the program goes much deeper than one loss.

“I told the guys after the game that the better team won today,” said Cameron. “They executed and did all the things right that we didn’t. We talk all the time about how last year was last year. This is a new season and these players have to write their own chapter.”

While the loss may have given a blow to the Raiders national aspirations, Cameron understands that this is bigger than rankings.

“Whether we win or lose, or if losses cost us state or national rankings, what we are doing goes beyond that,” said Cameron. “We are prearing guys not only for the playoffs, but what comes after that. We have guys that played in our program last year that are starting and performing at their colleges as freshman. So preparing them for the next level is what it is all about for us, and sometimes losing is part of that process.”

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