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SPORTS BRIEFS: Lee County softball splits pair of games; Ex-NFL star Hernandez pleads not guilty to murger charges

Lee County softball splits pair of games

LEESBURG — The Lee County softball team moved to 8-5 overall, but more importantly 1-0 in region play with a 1-0 win against Region 1-AAAAA rivals Bainbridge on Thursday.

The Lady Trojans defeated the Lady Bearcats as Erin Callaway pitched a complete game, allowing no runs, two hits and walking just one batter in a stellar performance by the senior Leading hitters for Lee were Ashley Morris, Ashley Nichols, Sydney McLain, Ally Clegg and Caitlyn Lawton.

The win came after a Tuesday loss to Schley County, 7-4, as Morris led once again with two hits, including a double. Danielle Davis also added a 3-for-4 day with a double and three RBI in the loss.

Hernandez pleads not guilty to all charges

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Ex-National Football League player Aaron Hernandez pleaded not guilty on Friday to murder in connection with the June killing of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd, and his lawyer said that not “one shred” of damning evidence had yet been presented.

Hernandez, 23, appeared at his arraignment in Superior Court in Fall River, Massachusetts, wearing a dark suit jacket and white collared shirt, said “not guilty” as the charges of first-degree murder and five firearms violations were read aloud.

Some members of Lloyd’s family, dressed in Lloyd’s favorite color purple, broke into tears during the brief hearing.

Hernandez was a star tight end for the New England Patriots but was cut by the team within hours of his June 26 arrest.

Lloyd’s body had been found nine days earlier in an industrial area near Hernandez’s home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Lloyd, 27, had been dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée.

Prosecutors have said that Hernandez and two other men drove Lloyd to the industrial park and shot him five times, including twice while he lay helpless on the ground.

A lawyer for Hernandez, Charles Rankin, told reporters after the arraignment that he believed the prosecution’s case was weak. “Not one shred of evidence has been presented yet, and we feel confident that when evidence is finally presented in a court of law that Aaron will be exonerated,” he said.

Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, speaking shortly after Rankin, disagreed: “Over 500 pages of documents have been released to the press and the public. Those include … returns on search warrants, still photographs from video surveillance …. I think that evidence speaks for itself.”

Hernandez is being held without bail, but Superior Court Judge Frances McIntyre granted a request by Hernandez’s attorneys to reserve the right to seek bail in the future. His previous effort to be released on bail was denied.

Hernandez, whose contract with the Patriots had been worth about $40 million, is being held in the Bristol County Jail. The next pretrial hearing has been set for Oct 9.

The Patriots are scheduled to take the field against the Buffalo Bills in New York on Sunday in their first game of the 2013-14 season.

The former Patriots star is also being investigated in connection with a double-murder in Boston in 2012 and has been sued by a Connecticut man who has accused Hernandez of shooting him in the face after a night at a Miami strip club in February. No criminal charges have been filed in either case.

Broncos crush Ravens in 2013 NFL opener

There was no mystery to Peyton Manning’s game plan: score and then score some more.

Manning pulled it off to a “T.” He tied the NFL record with seven touchdown passes, including three in the third quarter to break open a tight game, and the Denver Broncos pulled away to beat the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens 49-27 Thursday night in the NFL’s season-opening showcase.

“You never know what’s going to happen in a game,” Manning said. “I felt like we had to keep scoring.”

And score they did.

Third-year tight end Julius Thomas, shaking off an arrest last week for missing a court hearing on a traffic citation, and free agent addition Wes Welker, atoning for a muffed punt, each caught two of Manning’s scoring passes to help ease some of the sting from the Broncos’ double-overtime playoff loss to the Ravens in January.

Demaryius Thomas also had two touchdown catches, including the longest of the night, 78 yards.

“Last year was last year,” Manning said. “It’s a new year for us. It’s a good start to a new season. Depending on how the season goes, you can usually expect to see Baltimore again.”

Demaryius Thomas finished with five receptions for 161 yards, while Julius Thomas had five catches for 110 yards. Welker’s game-high nine catches accounted for 67 yards.

Manning, a four-time MVP who is starting his second season with Denver after playing the bulk of his career with the Indianapolis Colts, completed 27 of 42 passes for 462 yards.

His previous high was six touchdown passes in a game, which he accomplished twice, most recently against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 25, 2004.

“He’s phenomenal,” Julius Thomas said of Manning, 37. “To continue to come out every year and put that kind of performance on for us, it’s amazing.”

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was intercepted twice, though he was spared from having the second returned for a touchdown when Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan, celebrating prematurely, simply let the ball drop a yard before he reached the goal line. The ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, returning possession to the Ravens at the 20.

Patriots’ Gronkowski doubtful for opener

Although New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick did not say whether tight end Rob Gronkowski would play in Sunday’s opener, the team listed him as doubtful on Friday.

Gronkowski is recovering from arm and back surgery. Although his practice time has increased this week, there is little chance that he will play in Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills. He might be back for the second or third game, however.

Undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld is expected to be the Patriots’ primary receiving threat among tight ends in Gronkowski’s absence.

Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola is expected to play despite a groin injury.