June 12, 2010

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Pair of Dans Helps Cavaliers Nip Sooners

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – For the past few weeks, something just didn’t seem right with Danny Hultzen (right).


Hultzen, the sophomore lefty ace of top-ranked Virginia, hadn't lasted past the sixth inning since throwing a complete game against Duke on April 30. Over those four starts - somewhat surprisingly all wins - Hultzen suddenly looked human, allowing 14 earned runs and 12 walks in 22 innings and seeing his ERA jump from 1.98 to 2.83.

"Everyone 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."

Indeed he was.

Hultzen worked eight gritty innings, and Dan Grovatt (left) hit a two-run, laser of a home run, in the bottom of the sixth inning as top-ranked Virginia squeaked past No. 12 Oklahoma 3-2 Saturday before a sellout crowd of 4,801 at Davenport Field. With the win, the Cavaliers (51-12) move within one win of their second straight trip to the College World Series and left the Sooners (47-16) needing two wins over Virginia to reach Omaha.

"The big difference was my mentality," said Hultzen, who improved to 11-1 on the year and a remarkable 20-2 in his two-year career. "In the other starts, I think I over-thought and I tried to overthrow. There was a lot of stuff going on in my head. It wasn't very good. So I just did my best to clear my head and go out there and pitch."

Phil Gosselin (left) staked the Cavaliers to a 1-0 lead by hammering Michael Rocha's third pitch over the wall and into the pine trees in left-center for a leadoff homer in the bottom of the first. Hultzen spent the better part of the first four innings carving up the Sooners, who had five left-handed hitters trying to figure out a left-hander throwing a 93-mph fastball with a nasty curve and change to boot.

But the Sooners scratched for single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to take a 2-1 lead. Max White (2 for 3, R, RBI) was hit by a pitch in the fifth and later scored on Chris Ellison's single that slipped past Cavaliers third baseman Steven Proscia. An inning later, White got an opportunity when the normally slick Virginia defense couldn't turn a double play on Cameron Seitzer's grounder to second and singled in Tyler Ogle (2 for 4).

"That was our shot," Sooners coach Sunny Golloway said. "We were trying to put pressure on."

By pitching backwards and changing speeds effectively, Rocha (7-2), making his sixth start after throwing well down the stretch, had the Cavaliers guessing. After allowing two hits in the first two innings, Rocha tossed three hitless innings and led by a run entering the sixth.

"We have to give a lot of credit to their pitcher," Grovatt said. "He pitched awesome all night... he gave us trouble the whole time."

But Keith Werman doubled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, and after Rocha balked him to third, Grovatt ripped a 1-1 fastball over the wall in right for a 3-2 lead.

"I don't think the balk had anything to do with that pitch," said Rocha, who went 6.1 innings with five hits, three earned runs and six strikeouts. "I thought I made a decent pitch, he beat me with it."

Pitching with a lead, Hultzen's minor struggles in the fifth and sixth became a distant memory.

He struck out two Sooners in the seventh and got a slick, diving catch from Jarrett Parker in center in the eighth.

"That fired me up," Hultzen said of Grovatt's ninth homer. "Definitely pitching with a lead, I feel a lot more confident. When we were down 2-1...I still tried to be aggressive, but that home run gave me a lot of fuel."

Added Golloway: "I thought when he got the lead again, 3-2, he could smell the finish line. He started really pounding the zone. We knew it was going to be tough...he's a quality pitcher. I can tip my cap to him a million times to him because I don't think mathematically I have to see him again this year. He's everything advertised. He's really special."

With Hultzen at 130 pitches, Cavaliers closer Kevin Arico entered and allowed a single and a walk. With the runners on first and second in motion with two outs, Arico got Ellison to chase a slider for his 18th save.

For Oklahoma, it enters two days of must-win affairs knowing it hasn't lost a series since April 17-18 at Texas Tech. For Virginia, it knows it has a chance to do something special in returning to Omaha for the second straight year.

And it knows it needed its ace to come up big.

"Had he thrown like he had the last three or four weeks, we probably wouldn't have won the ball game I don't think," O'Connor said. "It took that kind of effort."


(photos courtesy of UVs Media Relations Office)