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The Palm Beach Post SECTION C Inside SOFTBALL Strickland, Conlon help Heat shine Miami reserves are taking full advantage of increased playing time. PAGE 5C nn High school extra: No-hitters galore Area high school pitchers have the upper hand in fast-pitch softball. PAGE 6C S fj ' Ml CLASSIFIED: 1 1-19 l EXTIIA Livan happy about season, everything else TUESDAY, MARCH 31, 1998 SPOR ! BkLl Much happened so quickly for the Marlins ace, and Cuban defector, Livan Hernandez, who really, at 23, hasn't yet begin to pitch. - y1 fc, & ..... . f became a star on the biggest and brightest stage imaginable, he's got things pretty well figured out. "Livan hasn't changed much," teammate Alex Fernandez said. "I'm sure he's more knowledgeable of the game now, and he's rich and he's famous, but he doesn't seem to change much." Of course, he didn't have that diamond stud in his left ear when he fled Cuba, now did he? "I look at life a lot differently than I did before," Hernandez said. "I think more about things before I do them. I have more responsibilities now." They are welcome responsibilities, born of the freedom he coveted so much that he left his home and family behind for the uncertainty of minor-league baseball in the United States. 4 And there you have it. He's reached the pinnacle of fame at 23, and he's living life as simply as he pleases. Hernandez will start today's season opener for the Florida Marlins against the Chicago Cubs. It's the first time he's started a season with a major-league team, but no other starter today comes to the mound equipped with last year's NLCS and World Series MVP awards. ' Hernandez uses a translator (his English is much better, but he still doesn't trust it for interviews), but the impression comes through clearly that for a guy who escaped his home country in search of freedom and money and Before Livan Hernandez left Cuba for the 'good life' in America;,-his wildest dreams probably couldn't have portrayed such a sue-' cessful beginning as he's had. By Dan Graziano Palm Beach Post Staff Writer MELBOURNE He can't pass somebody in the hall without a high-five or a pat on the shoulder and one of those broad, bright I-love-you-Miami smiles. Just can't do it. He's too happy. And why shouldn't he be? He plays baseball for a living and golf in his free time, and every day he gets to drive his choice of brand-new Mercedes to the park or the course. Livan Hernandez is not a guy on whom fame is weighing heavily. "I'm always happy," Hernandez said. "I like to be happy. Because that way, life is so much more fun." Down Please see MARLINS5C 12, Kentucky rallies for title j )7 j ALLEN EYESTONEStaff Photogiapher The Associated Press v( SAN ANTONIO Kentucky-capped a truly maddening March, with an unprecedented second- half rally, beating Utah 78-69 Mori-" day night to win its second NCAA championship in three years. . . And the Wildcats did it with 3 new coach and without stars in their lineup. Kentucky won its seventh na-' tional title with its third straight: rally of the tournament and became the first team to overcome a 10-point half-time deficit. With Tubby Smith working the. sidelines instead of Rick Pitino and with former stars Antoine Walker,, Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson in the NBA, Kentucky moved one trophy closer to UCLA's record total of 11. It was the third straight year the Wildcats were in the championship game they lost to Arizo-' na in overtime last season and the third straight year they ended. Utah's season in the NCAA Tour-; nament. Utah's impressive run to what would have been the school's second title and first since 1944 ended because Kentucky did what No. 1 ' seeds Arizona and North Carolina couldn't do against the Utes shoot well. Just as they had in the South f Regional final against Duke and, again in the national semifinals i against Stanford, the Wildcats felP behind in the first half, trailing 41-i 31 at half time. The deficit was as ! many as 12 points in the opening" minutes of the second half before; Kentucky started shooting welt? something Utah's past two oppo-,,; nents couldn't do. The Utes, the second-best defensive team in the country this season, had held its five tourna-l ment opponents to 39 percent! shooting and an average of 62.5 points. "I think we tired," Utah coach Rick Majerus said. "And I think these guys battled, but I probably should have played the bench a little more. I think fatigue factored into it" Kentucky, which finished 29-' for-57 from the field (51 percent). Please see KENTUCKY6'C A look at opening day Marlins vs. Cubs 4:35 p.m., Pro Player Stadium, SportsChannel Marlins probable lineup Cliff Floyd LF Edgar Renteria SS Ryan Jackson IB Gary Sheffield RF Mark Kotsay CF Charles Johnson C Craig Counsell 2B Josh Booty 3B Livan Hernandez P ' a r ; ! V Ray day The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays, led by former Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild (above), open today at Tropicana Field against the Detroit Tigers, who have moved from the AL East to the Central. Lefthander Wilson Alvarez will start. Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Al Lopez and Monte Irvin will handle the ceremonial first pitch. "It will be fun to be part of this," Devil Rays DH Paul Sorrento said. "It's history in the making." Other firsts - The season begins at Shea Stadium when the New York Mets face major league strikeout leader Curt Schilling of Philadelphia at 1:40 p.m. f Cal Ripken extends his consecutive games streak to 2,479 when Baltimore hosts Kansas City. f Former Marlin Kevin Brown starts for the San Diego Padres when they play at Cincinnati. Final say ."Opening days are very special. As far as the season goes it's the one day that sticks in your mind. It's not the playoffs, but the atmosphere is pretty close." t- BRADY ANDERSON, Orioles Renter fielder f 0nTV Royals at Orioles 3 p.m., ESPN H. Brewers at Braves 4 p.m., TBS Indians at Mariners 7 p.m.. ESPN Rockies at Diamondbacks 10 p.m.. ESPN Inside 'r- Ryan Jackson gets starts for Marlins. 4C - Jim Leyland still gets jitters on opening day. 4C -farewell to spring training. 20C I r i Jeff Sheppard (15), whose jumper with 4:53 left gave Kentucky of the Wildcats' 78-69 victory against Utah in the NCAA champi-the lead for good, and coach Tubby Smith were the centerpieces onship game. Sheppard finished with 16 points. PHOTOS BY THE ASSOCIATED PRESS tliat Utes5 impossible dream turned out to be just y- SAN ANTONIO Usaw Utah. But did vou ever believe? Really, really believe in the improbable collection of Utes? F.vpn after their demolition of defending NCAA champion Arizona in Wi Riririnal final more than a week ago? Even after they substantiated that a Greg Stoda thrashing by popping top-ranked iortn Carolina in a national semifinal earne Or in the sideline boss who is so much girth and mirth? Did you? Did you believe it was possible for Utah to claim college college basketball's national championship by knocking off yet another of the game's blueboods? Kentucky, the blue-clad blueblood from the Bluegrass State believed . . . but not as much not nearly as much as it believed in itself. Because that is the Wildcats' way. Always. They squash an opponent's dream and make it their own. , Please see ST0DA6C Urn : l upon arrival at the Final Four party? Did you believe in the 6-1 1, 265-pound fly-fisherman who, sooner or later depending on NBA career possibilites will pursue a medical career? Or in the kid from Helsinki. Finland, with the surname accentuated by three umlauts? Or in the Rhodes Scholar candidate? Or in the youngster pulled from some of the most dangerous streets in Los Angeles, plopped down in might-as - well -be-the-other-side-)f-the-world SaJt Lake City and given control of a team? Utah's unlikely odyssey through the NCAA Tournament, which included a Final Fcyx victory ove top-ranked North Carolina, ended in Monday nignt's final against Kentucky.