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    It's about time for programs to spring ahead

    By RODNEY PAGE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 11, 2001


    Area college sports teams are in full swing this time of year.

    Basketball is winding down and preparing for post-season tournaments, and baseball and softball began last weekend for most squads.

    Many schools have high hopes for the spring season, especially the St. Petersburg Junior College baseball team.

    Despite a recent losing streak, the Eckerd men's basketball squad remains optimistic about its tournament chances.

    Here's a look ahead to the spring sports, as well as an update on basketball:

    SPJC BASEBALL: The Trojans were one inning away from winning last season's Florida Junior College state championship.

    They lost 7-6 to Florida Community College of Jacksonville, but SPJC played in the final game for the first time in the school's 41-year baseball history.

    This season, the Trojans look like they plan on returning to the final game. This time, they hope to be the ones throwing the party on the mound.

    "Our goal every year is a state championship," SPJC coach Dave Pano said.

    The Trojans are 7-0 through Thursday. However, in the latest National Junior College Athletic Association poll, they are nowhere to be found.

    Indian River CC is sixth nationally -- the highest ranking of any state team. Suncoast Conference opponent Manatee CC is 21st. San Jacinto CC of Houston is the top ranked team.

    Beyond this season, the future looks bright for SPJC. It signed nine players for 2002, including five locals.

    Dunedin's Matt Cheek, Bryan Banks and Kenny Holmberg, Clearwater's Jason Costello and Clearwater Central Catholic's Jonathan Shepland will attend SPJC.

    ECKERD BASEBALL/SOFTBALL: Eckerd started the baseball season Feb. 4 and plays a doubleheader today against Embry-Riddle University.

    Junior shortstop Justin Loop of Pinellas Park and junior outfielder Jimmy Leonard of Northeast should lead the way for the Trojans this season.

    Eckerd doesn't begin Sunshine State Conference play until March 23.

    Eckerd's softball team started its season Saturday against Palm Beach Atlantic. The Tritons don't play again until Feb. 18 against St. Thomas.

    SPJC SOFTBALL: The Trojans are 3-1 after finishing third in the Palm Beach Community College Tournament last weekend.

    This weekend, they're playing host to the Tournament of Champions at Eddie C. Moore Complex in Clearwater.

    Games were played Friday and Saturday and continue today. SPJC is scheduled to be in action at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Admission for all games is free.

    BASKETBALL UPDATE: When we last checked in with the Eckerd College men's team, the Tritons were 6-0 in the Sunshine State Conference.

    Since then, Eckerd has lost three of four games and fallen out of first place with four league games remaining. The latest loss was 74-52 at Barry, which is only 3-7 in the SSC.

    Eckerd is the top team in the conference in scoring defense, allowing just 59.7 points per game. Dwayne Smith is ninth in the league in scoring average at 12.5 points. Cerwin Thompson is third in rebounds with 7.6 a game.

    The Eckerd womens squad is 14-10, 1-9 in the Sunshine, through Wednesday's 59-53 loss at Barry.

    Rachel Thompson (13.4 ppg) and Felecia Felton (12.6 ppg) are among the top 15 in the conference in scoring. Thompson is third in rebounds with an average of 8.6.

    The SPJC mens team is 12-12 in the Suncoast Conference after an 83-62 loss to Hillsborough Community College. Only four games remain before the league tournament, which begins Feb. 26.

    The women are 8-13, 1-5 in the Southern Conference through Thursday.

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