By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The top half of the first inning seemed to last an eternity Friday evening at Davenport Field. After UVa’s Danny Hultzen threw the game’s first pitch — a strike — 22 minutes passed before the nation’s top-ranked college baseball could record the third out.
By then Hultzen had thrown 39 pitches, and the Miami Hurricanes were up 5-0. That’s a substantial lead for any team, but especially one ranked No. 16 by Baseball America.
“They jumped us,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “They punched us in the nose a little bit. We got on our heels a little bit. But I thought our guys competed really well, all night long, and just didn’t have enough tonight.”
The final was 6-2, Miami, only the sixth loss in 49 games this season for the Cavaliers, who fell to 20-5 in the ACC. A crowd of 4,058 turned out for the opener of this three-game series and saw something unusual in the first inning: Hultzen struggling on the mound.
“Let’s keep this thing in perspective, who this kid is,” O’Connor said. “He’s not perfect. Last time I checked, the last perfect person died 2,011 years ago. He’s human. He’s not going to go out there and throw shutouts all the time.”
The reigning ACC pitcher of the year, Hultzen gave up four hits and three earned runs in the first inning. He wasn’t the only Cavalier off his game early. UVa, known for its superb defense, committed two errors before getting out of the first.
This is O’Connor’s eighth season at Virginia, and his team’s record is now 11-11 in series immediately following final exams. The Wahoos were coming off a nine-day break this time, but neither O’Connor nor his players offered that as an excuse.
“I don’t think that you can blame it on that,” junior catcher John Hicks said. “We didn’t make the fundamental plays like we should have. We just didn’t perform like have been all year.”
Could the loss be attributed to rust? “Absolutely not,” Hultzen said. “That was no excuse. We just didn’t do the things we normally do that make us good. We just need to get back to that in order to be successful.”
Weather permitting, Game 2 will start Saturday at noon.
“We’re going to come out ready to go,” Hicks said. “We’re definitely not happy with how we played, and we gotta look to improve on it.”
A junior left-hander, Hultzen lost for only the fourth time in his illustrious college career. Save one inning, though, he shut down the Hurricanes (17-7, 32-16). Miami’s final run came on a homer by Rony Rodriguez off reliever Justin Thompson in the eighth inning.
Hultzen finished with nine strikeouts and walked only one. After the first, he gave up two hits.
“I can tell you personally that in the past that [rocky first inning] probably would have gotten to me,” Hultzen said. “But we have a saying around here: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. You just gotta put that all behind you and just continue to fight.”
Hultzen retired the final 11 batters he faced Friday night.
“I think what really shows what this kid is made of, and the kind of person and competitor that Danny Hultzen is,” O’Connor said, “is what he did the second through the seventh inning … A lot of kids maybe would have packed it in and said, ‘Well, it’s just not my day.’ He’s such a great teammate, and he’s in it for the right reasons. He knows that he’s got a job to do, and that’s to pitch as deep into the game as he can and give our team a chance to win. He’s fine.”
Miami started freshman left-hander Bryan Radziewski, and he didn’t allow a hit until the fourth, when sophomore shortstop Chris Taylor led off with a double. John Barr following with a single, and then Hicks doubled in Taylor to make it 5-1.
Barr scored on an error by Hurricanes catcher Shane Rowland, but then Hicks, caught off third base, was tagged out in a rundown, and UVa’s comeback ended there. In the seventh, another baserunning mistake hurt Virginia, as Steven Proscia was picked off first.
“It’s pretty simple in this league: If you don’t play good fundamental baseball, you lose,” O’Connor said. “It’s such a rarity to win a game in this league without playing really good baseball, and we didn’t do that tonight, so we deserve what we got, and to Miami’s credit, they won the game.”
In the eighth, with the score 6-2, Virginia had runners on first and second with none out when Taylor hammered the ball for what appeared to be an extra-base hit. But Rodriguez made a diving catch in left-center, and the ‘Hoos went quietly after that.
“Their left-fielder made a really nice play,” O’Connor said. “That’s the game of baseball. You know, in the first 48 games we played, a lot of those kind of balls dropped. They didn’t drop tonight.”