By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Once the thunder and lightning and rain departed Davenport Field on Saturday, Danny Hultzen threw like Danny Hultzen, and Dan Grovatt hit like Dan Grovatt.
Not coincidentally, UVa’s baseball team went to bed that night one win from a second straight appearance in the College World Series.
Had Oklahoma seen the pitcher who’d been merely good in his previous four starts, Virginia might well be facing elimination in this best-of-three NCAA super regional. But Hultzen dominated the Sooners in the Cavaliers’ 3-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 4,801 at Davenport.
In eight innings, the sophomore left-hander struck out nine and walked only one. Oklahoma’s seven hits off Hultzen (11-1), the ACC pitcher of the year, were all singles.
“He’s everything advertised,” Oklahoma coach Sunny Golloway said. “He’s really special.”
Golloway’s most dangerous hitter, Garrett Buechele, came in batting .387 with 16 home runs. He went 0 for 4 against Hultzen, striking out twice, and had an 11-game hitting streak snapped.
“Everybody out there was wondering when we were going to see the old Danny back, even though he won all those games,” Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor said. “He was back tonight. It was great to see. He was in complete command of the game. We couldn’t have won the game without that kind of effort.”
For all of Hultzen’s brilliance Saturday, UVa trailed 2-1 when Grovatt came to the plate with none out in the sixth and teammate Keith Werman (leadoff double) on third.
Grovatt hit .324 as a freshman and led Virginia with a .356 average as a sophomore in 2009, when he made the all-ACC first team. The hits haven’t come as easily for the Cavaliers’ right-fielder this season, though, and Grovatt entered Game 1 of the super regional hitting .289.
He’d gone 3 for 14 in the NCAA regional and was 0 for 2 against Oklahoma starter Michael Rocha on Saturday. But Rocha threw a fastball that Grovatt smacked over the right-field wall, and just like that, the Wahoos (51-12) were ahead to stay.
“That definitely fired up me,” Hultzen said. “Pitching with the lead, I feel a lot more confident.”
“I guess you could say that was a pretty big home run,” Grovatt reluctantly acknowledged. “But like I said, I just was trying to put a good swing on the ball with Werm on third, and luckily it got out.”
Hultzen and closer Kevin Arico did the rest. Arico, who ended the game with back-to-back strikeouts, recorded his 18th save, matching the ACC record.
Hultzen threw a career-high 130 pitches Saturday, but if he was tiring at the end, it wasn’t apparent. He retired the Sooners (47-16) in order in both the seventh and the eighth.
“Had he thrown like he had the last three or four weeks, we probably wouldn’t have won the ball game,” O’Connor said. “It took that kind of effort. It took the way that he had been throwing the ball the majority of the season for us to win this game, there’s no question. But now, if we’re fortunate enough to win another game this weekend, I feel pretty good about Danny Hultzen moving forward.”
Hultzen would almost certainly start the Wahoos’ first game in Omaha, Neb., but they’re not there yet. Weather permitting, Game 2 will start Sunday at 4 p.m. at Davenport, where another capacity crowd is expected.
If a third game is necessary, it will start at 1 or 7 p.m. Monday.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve lost a series,” Golloway said. “I realize that it’s been a long time since our opponent has also, but all the way back to Texas Tech series for us. That was a long time ago. Seems like last year.”
The Cavaliers have lost only one series this season, to N.C. State in early April. The Sooners haven’t lost a series since the middle of that month, when they dropped two of three games at Texas Tech.
Junior right-hander Robert Morey (9-3, 3.72 ERA), a second-team all-ACC selection, will start Sunday for UVa. Golloway saved his No. 1 starter, junior right-hander Zach Neal (8-3, 4.42) for Game 2.
“We fully expect to come back [and force a third game],” Golloway said. “It’s not a disrespect against our opponent; they’re an outstanding opponent. The fans are going to yell at us no matter what I say. But my guys know we have confidence to come back.”
Thunderstorms delayed the start of Game 1 for nearly two hours. When play finally began, Hultzen walked leadoff batter Chris Ellison, then retired the next three Sooners.
Virginia’s first batter was junior Phil Gosselin, who blasted an 0-1 pitch from Rocha over the wall in left-center. The hit was Gosselin’s 95th of the season — a new UVa record — and he added a single in the seventh.
Like the Sooners, the ‘Hoos totaled seven hits. Through five innings, though, UVa had only two: Gosselin’s homer and a bloop single by classmate Jarrett Parker.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they had No. 23 on the mound, at the top of his game. After giving up an RBI single to Max White in the fifth, Hultzen retired the final seven batters he faced.
“I’ve been asked a lot why Danny Hultzen hasn’t hit more for us this year,” O’Connor said. “The guy was one of our top hitters last year as a freshman. Well, that’s why. You get to this time of the year, he’s still fresh, he can still pitch deep into the game.”
UVa’s defense was uncharacteristically shaky at times Saturday, but Parker was his usual brilliant self in center field. In the eighth, he dived to catch a sinking line drive that, had it gotten past Parker, would have been an extra-base hit.
The Virginia fans who packed Davenport rose to their feet and applauded Parker’s latest defensive gem. The noise level continued to rise, peaking when Arico fanned Ellison to end the game.
“The atmosphere in the stadium is awesome,” O’Connor said. “It really is. If you can’t enjoy coming to a game in this ballpark, you don’t have a heartbeat. It’s special, and our players recognize that, and it motivates them.
“Does it mean they’re going to get more hits or throw harder? No. But it feels great as a player. These guys have worked so hard to be successful, and that’s their reward: that there would be 5,000 people that would come out and wait through a two-hour rain delay and go to their cars or wherever they went and then come back, and the place is still full.”