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UT eager for chance vs. MLB players

Published Feb. 28, 2006

Tampa's baseball team is riding a wave of confidence after a recent eight-game win streak. But the Spartans take a break from the norm today as they face several of the biggest names in the major leagues when they play a spring training game against the World Baseball Classic team from the Netherlands.

Atlanta slugger Andruw Jones and St. Louis pitcher Mark Mulder are two of the 11 major leaguers Tampa will see. Jones, who led the majors with 51 home runs and the National League with 128 RBIs in 2005, is a native of Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. Fellow Curacao native Randall Simon and Sidney Ponson, a native of Aruba, also in the Antilles, will be present.

Mulder is from South Holland, Ill., which was settled in 1846 by immigrants from South Holland, Netherlands.

"It was a little shocking," Tampa pitcher Sergio Perez said. "I thought, Whoa these guys play for the Netherlands?' But it will be impressive to see all the talent. My parents came from Cuba so it's nice to see all the players play for their teams."

Netherlands, which hosted the World Baseball Cup in 2005, is in Clearwater preparing for the inaugural Classic in March. The Dutch need UT to provide a test; they are in one of the toughest pools in the 16-team event, grouped with Cuba, Panama and Puerto Rico.

The game starts at 8 p.m. at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater.

One Spartan hoping for a chance to play in the big leagues someday is outfielder Lee Cruz who earned SSC player of the week honors for the second time in three weeks on Monday. Cruz hit .500 with one home run and six RBIs in leading UT to a 3-0 record last week. He had at least one hit, run and RBI in each game for the Spartans (10-3), ranked eighth in the Collegiate Baseball Division II top 25.

Cruz collected three hits against Delta State, added two hits and three RBI against Quincy and homered against Alabama-Huntsville. Having hit safely in his last 10 games, he is among the conference's top 10 in RBI (fourth, 13), runs scored (fifth, 13), batting average (ninth, .432) and total bases (seventh, 28).

SOFTBALL: UT made its first win this season memorable as pitcher Devlin Dougherty became the first Spartan to toss a no-hitter since 1998, blanking Rollins 1-0 in seven innings on Saturday.

Dougherty walked one and struck out eight in relief in the second game of the doubleheader, with seven Ks in 5 1/3 scoreless innings. UT (1-5) lost that game 3-2.

SWIMMING: UT won a total of 20 events as the men's and women's teams captured titles at the SSC Championships in Orlando over the weekend.

Chelsea Hastings, who won three NCAA national championships a year ago, won the 50 and 100-yard freestyle, 100 yard backstroke and was part of the 200 and 400 free relay and 400 medley relay. On Friday, the Tampa Sports Club named Hastings its amateur female athlete of the year.

She qualified for this year's NCAA meet along with fellow swimmers Shanna Halsell, Julie Visser, Diana Mielke, Meghann Mulbarger, Sara Ragan, Katie Shald. UT's male qualifiers were Cole Tedhams, Mac Mattingly, Dan Klee, Kyle Merritt and Dan Cucchi .

- DAVID NORRIE, Times correspondent