Virginia baseball wins first game of super regional against Oklahoma

By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 13, 2010

CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Danny Hultzen marched from the Virginia dugout to the Davenport Field pitcher's mound for the eighth inning of Saturday's 3-2 victory over Oklahoma, emboldened by a lead and extended deeper than he has pitched in his past four starts, having thrown more pitches than any Cavaliers starter all season.

"Everybody out there was wondering when we would see the old Danny back," Coach Brian O'Connor said. "He was back tonight."

With a dominant performance from Hultzen, who allowed two earned runs in eight innings while striking out nine, Virginia took the first game of the best-of-three super regional and drew within one win of clinching its second consecutive College World Series bid.

The win halted a string of sub-par starts -- at least by Hultzen's standards. He did not last past the sixth inning in his last four starts and started to allow walks at an abnormally frequent rate.

The Cavaliers won each of those four games, which Hultzen and O'Connor mention when asked about Hultzen's struggles. But the St. Albans alum is the staff ace and ACC pitcher of the year. His first three months set expectations near Strasburgian levels.

"Had he thrown like he had the last three or four weeks," O'Connor said, "we probably wouldn't have won the ballgame."

O'Connor said Hultzen's issue has been more physical than mental. O'Connor emphasized that Hultzen should relax and not try to make many adjustments from pitch to pitch. Pitching coach Karl Kuhn also spent the week working with Hultzen on mechanical adjustments.

Because Hultzen was trying to do too much, Kuhn said Hultzen's landing point was off. The two rectified Hultzen's posture when he pitches, which made the difference with his timing.

"I guess I just got ahead of the hitters, threw a lot more strikes [and] was ahead of the count more often than the other starts," Hultzen said.

Kuhn said he tries not to extend pitchers past 100 pitches, and no Virginia pitcher has thrown more than 120 pitches this season. Hultzen threw 130 pitches and went out for the eighth inning at 112. Kuhn added that the way the staff has preserved its arms throughout the season will allow Virginia to extend at this time of year.

After Dan Grovatt hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to give the Cavaliers the 3-2 lead, Oklahoma Coach Sunny Galloway noticed Hultzen had a second life. Hultzen struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh inning and retired all six batters he faced followed Grovatt's homer.

It would have been hard for the Cavaliers to become a serious threat this weekend -- much less at the College World Series -- if their ace was not sharp. With that problem solved, a team already ranked No. 1 by two national polls appears even stronger entering college baseball's most crucial weeks.

"It took the way he had thrown the ball the majority of the season for us to win this game," O'Connor said. "But now, if we're fortunate enough to win another game this weekend, I feel pretty good about Danny Hultzen moving forward."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company