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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Towns has grand memories of playing East Carolina

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Posted: Friday, February 21, 2014 12:15 am

Branden Cogswell drew a five-pitch walk, advancing Daniel Pinero to second base, Kenny Towns to third and bringing a certain Mike Papi into the batter’s box.

Standing 90 feet away, Towns mentally began to make room inside his exclusive club.

“I thought Papi was going to join,” Towns said.

But Papi simply singled through the middle, scoring Pinero and Towns and keeping Towns as the only Virginia Cavalier in the modern era to hit two grand slams in the same game.

Papi went 2-for-4 with a single, grand slam and six RBI on Wednesday as the No. 1 Wahoos rolled William & Mary, 17-2, at Plumeri Park.

The All-American first baseman’s performance provided the perfect segue for UVa’s next series — a three-game set with East Carolina.

The opener is at 3 p.m., today, at Davenport Field.

The last time the Cavs and Pirates got together for a weekend, grand slams were all the rage.

Towns launched a pair — one in the first inning, one in the seventh inning — in Virginia’s 14-4 game one win in Greenville, N.C.

“I just got a couple of good pitches to hit,” UVa’s junior third baseman modestly stated Wednesday, looking back to Feb. 15, 2013. “That was pretty much it.”

Should he repeat, Towns will forever haunt the dreams of ECU starter Jeff Hoffman — no matter how successful Hoffman’s career turns out to be.

Hoffman, a lanky 6-foot-4, 192-pound junior, is Baseball America’s No. 2 college prospect for the 2014 MLB Draft.

He opened the 2013 season by allowing a single to Cogswell, getting Jared King to ground out, plunking Derek Fisher, retiring Brandon Downes, walking Joe McCarthy and throwing a fastball to Towns that was rocketed over the right field wall.

“I just kept it simple,” Towns said, “and I was able to barrel it up.”

Welcome to Virginia’s approach when dealing with power pitchers.

Hoffman’s heater sits in the 93-96 mph range and can reach 98. UVa tagged him for four runs on four hits in 4 2/3 innings last season.

In two games against N.C. State flame-thrower Carlos Rodon, Baseball America’s No. 1 college prospect for the MLB Draft, the Cavaliers have managed four runs on six hits, including a Fisher two-run homer in 2012.

Towns ended Florida State’s ACC Tournament last season when he crushed Jameis Winston’s fastball over the left field wall in the 12th inning.

“We all make sure we don’t try to do too much,” Towns said. “Because if you try to do too much, you’re not going to hit guys who have power stuff. Keeping it simple and trying to square guys up is key against those guys.

“We do a great job of doing it.”

Last Friday against James Madison, Hoffman went 6 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits while striking out six and walking two.

He’ll get the nod today against a UVa lineup coming off a 19-hit performance at William & Mary.

“It’ll be a great challenge,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “He’s like the No. 1 starters you see in our league, so I think it’s a great test for us. ... Certainly, he’s one of the top prospects in the country for a reason. He’s talented and we’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Hoffman’s 84 K’s in 2013 were good for ninth in Conference USA. He only gave up three home runs.

Of course, one of them started Kenny Towns’ historic day.

“It’s an awesome memory,” Towns said.

Pitching match-ups

Virginia (3-1) will throw left-hander Nathan Kirby (1-0, 0.00 ERA) today, righty Josh Sborz (1-0, 0.00) on Saturday and lefty Brandon Waddell (0-1, 12.46) on Sunday. During last week’s tournament in Wilmington, N.C., the Cavs went Waddell-Kirby-Sborz. ... After Hoffman, ECU (3-1) will throw lefty Reid Love (0-0, 0.00) on Saturday and righty David Lucroy (0-1, 18.00) on Sunday.

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