GREENVILLE, N.C.—No. 18 East Carolina had a chance to break open Friday's game against second-ranked Virginia in the first inning, but Cavaliers ace Danny Hultzen wriggled out of a jam after allowing just two runs, and UVa. made the Pirates pay. Hultzen settled in and threw five shutout innings after the first, and sophomore third baseman Steven Proscia powered the Cavs to a 6-2 win at packed Clark-LeClair Stadium.
Hultzen did not have his best stuff and struggled with his control in the first. After Kyle Roller doubled to put runners on second and third with one out, Hultzen issued eight straight balls to walk in a run, and Jared Avchen followed with an RBI groundout to first to put the Pirates up 2-0. But Hultzen got Cam Freeman to pop out to first base in foul territory to end the threat.
"I think everybody had those opening-day jitters a little bit, especially me—I just couldn't find the strike zone," Hultzen said. "But I knew that my defense was going to play well and we were going to make the plays. It was good to get out of that inning. Once I calmed down a little bit, I felt more confident and had better command of my pitches."
Hultzen's fastball velocity was fine—he reached 92 mph early and worked in the 89-91 mph range for most of the day. He improved his feel for his changeup and breaking ball as the game wore on, catching a number of East Carolina hitters out in front of his offspeed stuff and inducing weak contact. He did not give up another hit after Freeman's single to lead off the fourth, and he retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced before handing off to junior righty Tyler Wilson, who worked three scoreless frames for the save. Hultzen finished with four strikeouts and three walks over six innings of work.
"Danny Hultzen is who he is because he's a grinder," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said. "He did not have his best stuff, he wasn't locating his pitches real well, but he grinded it out in the middle innings and got us to the seventh inning. That's what a starter needs to do, a veteran who's been through the wars like him. I'm proud of him—he made the big pitches in the clutch when he needed to."
East Carolina starter Seth Maness, meanwhile, was dominant for three innings. Maness worked primarily in the high 80s last year, but he was sitting around 92 mph for the first few innings, and he used his fastball and his outstanding changeup to collect three strikeouts through three scoreless, one-hit innings. But Hultzen got Virginia's bats going in the fourth, leading off the frame with a single through the left side of the infield, and Dan Grovat followed with a single to right to put runners on the corners. Proscia then put the Cavs on the board with a sacrifice fly, and center fielder Jarrett Parker tied it up with an RBI double to left-center.
Proscia wasn't done. With the score tied 2-2 in the sixth, Proscia worked the count to 2-and-0, then sat on an offspeed pitch, he said later. Maness delivered a curveball, and Proscia smashed it over the left-field fence for a go-ahead two-run homer. Proscia added an RBI single in the seventh to give UVa. its final margin.
"I'll tell you, Steven Proscia's swung the bat really well in our preseason," O'Connor said. "Last year he played the entire year with a fractured wrist and elected not to get surgery last year and have it after the season. He hadn't played all summer and all fall, but he looked really great today. He's got great power, and he's an exciting player."
He was an exciting player last year even with the wrist injury, hitting .333/.379/.550 with 10 homers and 58 RBIs. Coming into this season, we pegged Proscia as a candidate to emerge as a college baseball superstar as a sophomore, just as Jarrett Parker did last year. With his wrist injury behind him—and with first-team preseason All-American Parker hitting behind him in the No. 5 hole—Proscia certainly looks on his way to a monster season.
"I definitely could tell the difference (in my wrist)," Proscia said. "Once I was getting back into the swing of things, I could tell with my wrist I was staying through the ball a lot longer. Coach (Kevin McMullan) has been working with me and it's been feeling great. Right now I feel like I'm 100 percent—it's not bothering me at all."
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