High-SchoolArizona: Must See

Love of the game drives No. 9 prospect Nay

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
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For all of senior Mitch Nay’s accomplishments during his high school days, the one he remembers most fondly is a loss.

Nay’s spectacular junior season helped his Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) Huskies reach the Class 5A, Division I baseball title game against Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, Ariz.). The fourth-seeded Huskies battled hard but dropped a heartbreaking game, 7-6, in eight innings.

For many athletes, a loss like that would be devastating. For Nay, it was exhilarating.

“That’s something I’ll always remember,” he said. “It was a great game. It went to extra innings, and we ended up losing, but it was still the most fun I’ve ever had playing the game. I’m with my best friends, against good competition, it was back and forth for seven innings, and the whole atmosphere was great.”

Baseball can be a grind more than a game for top recruits. Yet for the nation’s No. 9 prospect in the ESPN 100, a childlike appreciation of the sport helps him stay grounded, all the while proving why the Arizona State signee has a chance to be selected in the early rounds of this June’s MLB draft.

“He’s performing very well for us,” said Hamilton head coach Mike Woods. “When you factor in that he’s having to deal with all of the pressures of the scrutiny, where he’s going to be drafted, everybody watching, and teams not giving him much to hit, he’s doing super.”

For Nay, the last part — teams not giving him much to hit — has been the toughest. Last season, the third baseman hit .495, cracked 14 home runs and added 54 RBIs. This season, those numbers are down because teams are staying away from the powerful senior star.

“It’s actually been really tough,” Nay said. “It’s taken some getting used to. Sometimes you get in that zone where you’re sure they won’t throw you a strike, and then you get a pitch to hit and you won’t be ready. In the beginning of the season, I was really aggressive. I was not swinging at good pitches. It’s definitely been an adjustment.”

His patience at the plate has been a big improvement this season. So has his work ethic. Nay says it wasn’t until last summer that he really understood his talent on the diamond could take him places — places beyond even the college level.

Since then, he’s been a gym rat, constantly working out, taking his batting practice sessions more seriously and studying every aspect of his approach at the plate.

“He had a huge swing over the last couple of years," Woods said, "but he’s refining it, shortened it, and he’s gotten it under control.”

Nay says that longer swing reared its ugly head again at the start of this season. So he headed to the film room and watched a tournament from last summer, when he felt his swing was more repeatable. He made some adjustments, and the results — including five home runs in the last two weeks of the regular season — spoke for themselves.

Nay’s offense is what attracts scouts and sold Arizona State. But it’s his defense that keeps them watching. While ESPN senior baseball analyst Keith Law believes Nay will eventually shift to the outfield, Woods disagrees.

“He looks like a professional third baseman,” the coach says. “He’s got a major league arm right now across the diamond. He’s got more work to do defensively — everyone does — but he could play at that level defensively.”

It may not be long until we see Nay at that level. The senior says he’s unsure about his next step, and it will depend on where he’s selected in the MLB draft. He says all but two or three MLB teams have visited his home or showed up at his games, and a few have shown particularly strong interest.

For Nay, there are benefits to either side of the equation. He’s long dreamed of playing professionally, but he doesn’t want to rush it, either. And the allure of Arizona State is strong.

“I’ve always wanted to go to ASU,” he says. “The college lifestyle would be a lot of fun. And I’d still probably get to the majors from there. If it’s pro, it’s pro, but if it’s ASU, I’d be glad to go there for three years. I’ll figure it out.”

“He’s got a lot of people in his ear about what’s next,” Woods adds. “No matter what he decides, I’m sure he’ll be successful.”

Nay isn’t all baseball, all the time. Woods says his star hitter is also a star student. He’s got a grade-point average well above 4.0, and it took years for many of his teachers to realize he was a baseball player, much less the nation’s second-ranked third baseman.

And now, with the biggest summer of his life ahead of him, Nay isn't altering his fun-loving approach.

“It’s been a learning process,” he said. “I’ve never had this many eyes on me before. It’s taken some getting used to. But no matter how many eyes are on me, the game is still the game.”

MLB Draft Stock Watch: High School Look

March, 16, 2012
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Mitch NayMike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP ImagesHamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) senior third baseman Mitch Nay has seen his MLB draft stock rise thanks to a strong start to the 2012 season.
Jason A. Churchill, who covers the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, looks at the high school senior baseball prospects who’ve either helped or hurt their draft stock early in the 2012 season.

The Class of 2012 high school baseball class is one of great promise. While it might lack polish at the top, it offers a lot of projectable, star-level athletes with high ceilings. This class, however, won’t sort itself out until late April and May. From our rough sketch of the top 20 high school prospects that was compiled during the preseason (see below), we’ll look at who’s improving their stock and who’s fading in the early going.

Preseason Top 20

1. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
2. Byron Buxton, OF, Appling County (Baxley, Ga.)
3. Carlos Correa, SS, Puerto Rico Academy (Gurabo, Puerto Rico)
4. Walker Weickel, RHP, Olympia (Orlando, Fla.)
5. Max Fried, LHP, Harvard-Westlake (Studio City, Calif.)
6. Matt Smoral, LHP, Solon (Ohio)
7. Stryker Trahan, C, Acadiana (Lafayette, La.)
8. Joey Gallo, 1B, Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas)
9. Gavin Cecchini, SS, Barbe (Lake Charles, La.)
10. David Dahl, OF, Oak Mountain (Birmingham, Ala.)
11. Lucas Sims, RHP, Brookwood (Snellville, Ga.)
12. Hunter Virant, LHP, Camarillo (Calif.)
13. Rio Ruiz, 3B, Bishop Amat (La Puente, Calif.)
14. Zach Eflin, RHP, Hagerty (Oviedo, Fla.)
15. Clint Coulter, C, Union (Camas, Wash.)
16. Courtney Hawkins, OF, Carroll (Corpus Christi, Texas)
17. Addison Russell, SS, Pace (Fla.)
18. Carson Kelly, 3B, Westview (Portland, Ore.)
19. Tanner Rahier, SS, Palm Desert (Calif.)
20. Corey Seager, 3B, Northwest Cabarrus (Concord, N.C.)

STOCK UP

Mitch Nay, 3B/OF, Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.)
Nay, Arizona's top prep prospect, has a shot to shoot up the charts with more performances like this week's outing when he went deep to right-center -- the opposite field for Nay, who’s a right-handed batter -- for a three-run homer.

Ty Buttrey, RHP, Providence (Charlotte, N.C.)
Buttrey touched 95 mph on the radar gun last week and sat firmly in the low-90s. He fanned 12 in 5.2 innings in one start and offers projection at 6-foot-6 and just over 200 pounds. He’s committed to Arkansas, but he could move up into first-day consideration.

Eflin
In his latest start, Eflin, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound Central Florida commit, tossed six hitless frames and struck out 12. He has 29 strikeouts in 15 innings on the season, using a 90-94 mph fastball and a potentially plus curveball. He has yet to allow an earned run.

Weickel
Weickel, already a potential top 10 pick and a Miami commit, whiffed 10 in his start last week and has scouts drooling over what might be in a few years. "Sometimes I get lost and imagine him four years down the line," said an area scout. "He could be an absolute horse. The sky's the limit."

STOCK DOWN

Keon Barnum, 1B, King (Tampa, Fla.)
Barnum is hitting for average and power early on, but is not showing a consistent ability to recognize and adjust to the breaking ball. Since he's already 19, Barnum has less developmental time ahead of him than most prep draft prospects and is limited to first base defensively, so he has to show even better at the plate than if he offered defensive value. He does possess plus bat speed and the ball jumps off his barrel, but he's slumped a bit early this season.

Lance McCullers Jr., RHP, Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.)
While McCullers started this year 4-0, he lands on the Stock Down list because scouts hoped to see improvements in some key areas that have not yet been displayed. He's still inconsistent with his command and there are issues with his delivery, including a lot of effort, and the buzz is that he's headed for the bullpen as a professional.

Fried
After faring very well in his first few outings and impressing over the summer, fall and early winter, Fried has looked very pedestrian of late. He's sat 89-92 mph with his fastball and has not commanded his arsenal well in his last two starts, getting touched up in both. It's far too early to suggest this will ultimately impact his draft stock, but the trend isn't rosy.

Giolito
Giolito lands here based solely on his elbow injury. It's been described as a UCL sprain -- I coined it a potential "UCLA sprain" for its impact on Giolito's decision to sign a pro deal or head to UCLA next fall -- but sprains too often turn up as tears, which generally require Tommy John surgery. The right-hander is my No. 1 overall prospect, prep or college, and will remain at the top of the prep list until more is known of his condition.

If Giolito returns and shows he's 100 percent, he's still likely to be selected in the top 5-10 picks, if not the top three.

INJURIES

On top of Giolito's injury, there have been two others that may weaken the prep class and drop the stock of the player in question. Albuquerque Academy (Albuquerque, N.M.) catcher/infielder Alex Bregman broke the tip of his middle finger and is expected to miss the rest of the season. Showing the toughness clubs want to see, Bregman hurt the finger in pre-game yet played and had two hits.

Ringgold (Ga.) left-hander Matthew Crownover, the nation’s No. 8 lefty, recently had Tommy John surgery and will miss the rest of the season. He wasn't considered a first-round talent, but he has touched 95 mph and had a shot to sneak into the top 100 despite his lack of ideal height at 6-0. He's likely headed for Clemson and will be draft eligible in 2015.

Jason A. Churchill covers scouting, player development and the MLB draft for ESPN Insider, as well as Prospect Insider, where he's the founder and executive editor. You can follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider and email him at churchill@prospectinsider.com.

FAB 50 Offseason Primer: Brophy Prep

March, 7, 2012
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Devon AllenMiller Safrit/ESPN.comBrophy Prep (Phoenix) junior receiver Devon Allen scored 17 touchdowns this past fall.
During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation for next fall.

FAB 50 Offseason Primer Archive

This week’s team: Brophy Prep (Phoenix)

2011 Season: 11-1, Division I state quarterfinalist, unranked in final POWERADE FAB 50.

Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 40. With a strong cast of returning players off a 2011 team that didn’t lose until the state playoffs, the Broncos could be the preseason team to beat in Arizona. Brophy, which fell to Basha (Chandler, Ariz.) 32-29 in the state quarterfinals, is set to play Santa Margarita (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) in late August. Santa Margarita figures to start the season No. 2 in California and was projected to be a top-15 FAB 50 team earlier in our Offseason Primer.

Team Strengths: Coach Scooter Molander should have one of the nation’s top collections of skill players, similar to the group at Chaparral (Scottsdale, Ariz.) this fall that was led by quarterback Connor Brewer and receiver/defensive back/kick returner Davonte’ Neal.

Brophy junior quarterback Tyler Bruggman threw for 37 touchdowns with just two interceptions this past season and has offers from a multitude of colleges, including Arizona and Arizona State. Junior receiver Devon Allen had 44 receptions for 844 yards and scored 17 total touchdowns, including a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against North Canyon (Phoenix). He’s been offered by the likes of Michigan, Stanford and Washington. Also returning will be junior running back D’Amani Grayer, who ran for 939 yards and 10 scores. Junior Charlie Renfree leads the offensive line.

On defense, junior linebacker Andrew Curtis racked up 103 tackles in 2011, while junior Robert Relf is a solid contributor at safety.

Another Arizona team to watch: Defending Division I state champion Desert Vista (Phoenix) and perennial power Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) aren’t going to hand over state bragging rights to Brophy Prep quite so easily and should be solid once again.

One small school powerhouse with a national reputation for success that may have one of its best teams is Blue Ridge (Lakeside, Ariz.). Coach Paul Moro’s program is coming off a 14-0 Division IV state championship season and should feature one of Arizona’s top prospects, regardless of school size, in 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker Chans Cox. The Yellow Jackets, who have won two state titles in the last three years, also will return quarterback Skyler Hill, who threw for 267 yards in the state finals against Show Low (Ariz.).

One goal, PK save lift Cortez to state title

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
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Daniel Lopez's goal and a save by keeper Jonathan Atencio on a penalty kick allowed Cortez (Phoenix, Ariz.) to snag a 1-0 victory over Coronado (Scottsdale, Ariz.) in the Arizona Division III state final on Friday night. Cortez has won two state titles over the past four seasons.

Salpointe captures Arizona Division II title

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
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Salpointe Catholic (Tucson, Ariz.) scored twice in the final 10 minutes to pull away for a 3-0 victory over Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale, Ariz.) in the Arizona Division II state final Saturday afternoon. The victory ended an eight-year title drought for Salpointe, which has made the playoffs 29 of the last 30 years.

Hamilton tops Brophy in Arizona Div. I final

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
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Jordan Fletcher of Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) scored in the fourth overtime session, lifting the Huskies to a 2-1 victory over Brophy College Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.) in the Arizona Division I state final Saturday night.

The victory marked Hamilton's first state title, while Brophy was prevented from winning back-to-back crowns.

Estrella Foothills repeats as state champ

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
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For the fourth straight season, Estrella Foothills (Goodyear, Ariz.) ended the year as a state champion, this time knocking off top-seeded Palo Verde (Tucson, Ariz.) 3-2 in overtime in the Arizona Division III final on Friday evening.

Kelsie Roberts scored twice, the second coming in overtime for Estrella Foothills, which won the three previous Class 1A-2A-3A titles in Arizona.

Catalina Foothills extends state title streak

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
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Emily Green and Jenna Glad each scored goals to carry Catalina Foothills (Tucson, Ariz.) to a 2-0 victory over Catcus Shadows (Cave Creek, Ariz.) in the Arizona Division II state final Saturday afternoon.

The victory marked Catalina Foothills' third straight state title and sixth in the past eight seasons. Catalina Foothills won the Class 4A-I titles in 2010 and 2011 before the Arizona state association changed the playoff format for 2012.

Highland uses PKs to dethrone Hamilton

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
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Goalkeeper Ashley March delivered a pair of diving saves in the shootout that allowed Highland (Gilbert, Ariz.) to edge Hamilton (Chandler, Ariz.) in the Arizona Division I state final Saturday evening following a 1-1 match that went four overtimes. Highland held a 4-2 advantage in the penalty kicks.

The victory marked Highland's first state title. Hamilton was the large-school state champion last year.

Super Bowl XLVI high school alumni

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
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Eli Manning, Tom BradyAP Photo, Serra High SchoolBefore they led their teams to Super Bowl XLVI, Eli Manning (left) and Tom Brady were high school standouts at Isidore Newman (New Orleans) and Junipero Serra (San Mateo, Calif.), respectively.

With signing day upon us and the the Super Bowl not far behind, it's a busy time for all levels of the game. Given that every player in Super Bowl XLVI played as a prep back in the day, we decided to break down the rosters for the New England Patriots and New York Giants by state and by high school.

Emerging superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski and fullback Lousake Polite of the Patriots are both from Woodland Hills (Pittsburgh). These two are also the only two players from Pennsylvania from the Patriots in this year's game.

For the Giants, star receiver Hakeem Nicks from Independence (Charlotte, N.C.) was part of the school's legendary 109-game win streak from 2000 to 2009 that still stands as the second-longest in U.S. history.

And with the Great State Debate still fresh on our minds, it's worth mentioning that California leads the way for Super Bowl participants this season with 13, while Florida (11) and Ohio (9) aren't far behind in the tally.

ALABAMA
Giants LB Michael Boley (Elkmont)
Giants WR Jerrel Jernigan (Eufaula)
Giants DL Justin Tuck (Central Coosa County, Rockford)
Giants DL Osi Umenyiora (Auburn)

ARIZONA
Giants DB Prince Amukamara (Apollo, Glendale)

ARKANSAS
Giants OL Mitch Petrus (Carlisle)

CALIFORNIA
Giants WR Ramses Barden (Flintridge Prep, La Canada)
Patriots QB Tom Brady (Junipero Serra, San Mateo)
Giants QB David Carr (Stockdale, Bakersfield)
Patriots DB Patrick Chung (Rancho Cucamonga)
Patriots WR Julian Edelman (Woodside)
Patriots OL Logan Mankins (Mariposa)
Patriots DB Sterling Moore (Deer Valley, Antioch)
Giants TE Bear Pascoe (Granite Hills, Porterville)
Giants LB Spencer Paysinger (Beverly Hills)
Patriots WR Matthew Slater (Servite, Anaheim)
Giants DL Dave Tollefson (Ygnacio Valley, Concord)
Patriots RB Shane Vereen (Valencia)
Patriots OL Ryan Wendell (Diamond Bar)

COLORADO
Giants DB Derrick Martin (Thomas Jefferson, Denver)
Patriots OL Nate Solder (Buena Vista)

CONNECTICUT
Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez (Bristol Central, Bristol)
Patriots LB Niko Koutouvides (Plainville)
Patriots OL Donald Thomas (Career Magnet, New Haven)

FLORIDA
Giants OL David Baas (Riverview, Sarasota)
Giants OL Kevin Boothe (Pine Crest, Fort Lauderdale)
Giants DL Linval Joseph (Santa Fe, Alachua)
Patriots WR Chad Ochocinco (Miami Beach)
Giants DB Kenny Phillips (Carol City, Miami)
Giants DL Jason Pierre-Paul (Deerfield Beach)
Giants DB Antrel Rolle (South Dade, Homestead)
Giants K Lawrence Tynes (Milton)
Patriots DL Gerard Warren (Union County, Lake Butler)
Giants LB Jacquian Williams (Riverview, Sarasota)
Patriots DL Vince Wilfork (Santaluces, Lantana)

GEORGIA
Patriots Deion Branch (Monroe, Albany)
Giants DB Deon Grant (Josey, Augusta)
Patriots LB Gary Guyton (Bradwell Institute, Hinesville)
Patriots DL Kyle Love (North Clayton, College Park)
Giants RB D.J. Ware (Rockmart)

ILLINOIS
Patriots DB Sergio Brown (Proviso East, Maywood)
Giants OL David Diehl (Brother Rice, Chicago)
Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich (Lincoln-Way Central, New Lenox)

INDIANA
Giants OL James Brewer (Arlington)
Giants LB Mathias Kiwanuka (Cathedral, Indianapolis)
Giants P Steve Weatherford (North Vigo, Terre Haute)

IOWA
Giants DB Tyler Sash (Oskaloosa)

KENTUCKY
Patriots DL Brandon Deaderick (Elizabethtown)

LOUISIANA
Patriots RB Kevin Faulk (Carencro, Lafayette)
Patriots RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (St. Augustine, New Orleans)
Giants RB Brandon Jacobs (Assumption, Napoleonville)
Giants QB Eli Manning (Isidore Newman, New Orleans)
Giants DB Corey Webster (St. James)

MARYLAND
Patriots DB Kyle Arrington (Gwynn Park, Brandywine)

MASSACHUSETTS
Patriots DL Ron Brace (Burncoat, Worcester)
Giants LS Zak DeOssie (Phillips Academy, Andover)
Patriots DB James Ihedigbo (Amherst-Pelham Regional, Amherst)

MICHIGAN
Patriots OL Nick McDonald (Ford, Sterling Heights)
Giants WR Devin Thomas (Canton)

MISSISSIPPI
Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski (Madison Central, Madison)
Patriots RB Stevan Ridley (Trinity Episcopal, Natchez)

MISSOURI
Patriots OL Dan Connolly (Marquette, Chesterfield)

MONTANA
Patriots LB Dane Fletcher (Bozeman)

NEBRASKA
Patriots RB Danny Woodhead (North Platte)

NEW JERSEY
Giants WR Victor Cruz (Paterson Catholic, Paterson)
Patriots DB Nate Jones (Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Scotch Plains)
Patriots DB Devin McCourty (Saint Joseph Regional, Montvale)
Giants OL Kareem McKenzie (Willingboro)
Giants DL Justin Trattou (Don Bosco Prep, Ramsey)
Patriots WR Tiquan Underwood (Notre Dame, Lawrenceville)

NEW YORK
Giants DL Jimmy Kennedy (Roosevelt, Yonkers)

NORTH CAROLINA
Giants DL Chris Canty (Charlotte Latin, Charlotte)
Giants WR Hakeem Nicks (Independence, Charlotte)
Patriots LB Brandon Spikes (Crest, Shelby)

OHIO
Giants TE Jake Ballard (Springboro)
Giants LB Chase Blackburn (Marysville)
Giants OL Jim Cordle (Lancaster)
Patriots QB Brian Hoyer (Saint Ignatius, Cleveland)
Giants LB Greg Jones (Archbishop Moeller, Cincinnati)
Patriots OL Matt Light (Greenville)
Patriots Zoltan Mesko (Twinsburg)
Giants WR Mario Manningham (Harding, Warren)
Patriots DB Antwaun Molden (Glenville, Cleveland)

OKLAHOMA
Patriots DL Mark Anderson (Booker T. Washington, Tulsa)
Patriots WR Wes Welker (Heritage Hall, Oklahoma City)

PENNSYLVANIA
Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski (Woodland Hills, Pittsburgh)
Giants LB Mark Herzlich (Conestoga, Berwyn)
Giants RB Henry Hynoski (Southern Columbia, Catawissa)
Patriots RB Lousaka Polite (Woodland Hills, Pittsburgh)
Giants RB Da'Rel Scott (Plymouth Whitemarsh, Plymouth Meeting)
Giants OL Chris Snee (Montrose)

RHODE ISLAND
Giants DB Will Blackmon (Bishop Hendricken, Warwick)

SOUTH CAROLINA
Patriots DL Shaun Ellis (Westside, Anderson)
Patriots LB Tracy White (Timberland, St. Stephen)

TEXAS
Giants DL Rocky Bernard (Sterling, Baytown)
Patriots OL Marcus Cannon (Odessa)
Patriots QB Ryan Mallett (Texas, Texarkana)
Giants DB Aaron Ross (Tyler)
Giants OL Tony Ugoh (Westfield, Houston)
Patriots OL Brian Waters (Waxahachie)
Patriots DB Malcolm Williams (South Grand Prairie, Grand Prairie)

VIRGINIA
Patriots LS Danny Aiken (Cave Spring, Roanoke)
Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw (Graham, Bluefield)
Patriots LB Jerod Mayo (Kecoughtan, Hampton)

WISCONSIN
Giants TE Travis Beckum (Oak Creek)

Note: List does not include OL Sebastian Vollmer of the Patriots, who is not from a U.S. high school (Germany); Rob Gronkowski attended Williamsville North (Williamsville, N.Y.) before transferring to Woodland Hills for his senior year

Arizona school forfeits 164 sports contests

January, 27, 2012
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The Arizona Republic reported today that Aqua Fria (Avondale, Ariz.) is forfeiting 164 high school contests following an internal audit of winter and fall sports revealed more than 450 violations of Arizona Interscholastic Association guidelines.

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