Hylton, Franzoni, Hack, Maldonado open college season in style

By Bob Behre | February 17, 2020

Former Diamond Jacks Brandon Hylton, Devin Hack, Luke Franzoni and Nick Maldonado started the 2020 college baseball season in grand fashion this past weekend.

Hylton is back on the diamond after a knee injury ended his would-be 2019 freshman season before it started. The big first baseman from Basking Ridge came out mashing to help Stetson get out of the gate at 3-0.

“It was awesome to get back to what I love doing so much,” said Hylton, “especially after having to watch a whole season from the bench last year.”

Hylton opened the season 5-for-10 with a double a pair of RBI as Stetson defeated Manhattan, 9-6, before sweeping a pair of games against Air Force, 4-1 and 8-1. Hylton’s once lithe 6-7 frame has now filled out to an imposing 230 pounds, making him an even more dangerous lefty hitter in the Stetson lineup.

“After a long fall season I feel more ready than ever,” said Hylton. “Nothing felt better than being a Stetson Hatter this weekend. I was able to go out there and perform to the best of my ability for my teammates, coaches and family.”

Hylton opened his season 2-for-4 against Manhattan then chipped in with an RBI double in his team’s first victory over Air Force. He then capped his weekend with a 2-for-3 effort that included an RBI and a run-scored. It looks like a big season looms for the redshirt freshman and Ridge High School grad.

“I had a couple errors on opening day,” he said. “But I told myself to lock in and focus on the little things and I turned it around and was able to help my team secure a win. Opening weekend reminded me what I missed last year and why I live for the game of baseball.”

Franzoni, a sophomore right fielder, helped Xavier to a 2-1 start with a productive weekend out of the No. 3 spot in the Musketeers lineup. Franzoni went 3-for-10 and knocked in four runs while Xavier took two of three games from Memphis.

Luke Franzoni plays right field for Xavier.

Franzoni drove in the tying run with a sac fly in the second game of the series before Xavier went on to a 3-1 victory. He also went 2-for-3 in the game with a pair of singles. The Princeton Day grad saved his biggest performance of the weekend in Xavier’s 9-6  victory in the series finale. He delivered a run with a sac fly in the third inning before launching a two-run home run in the seventh to give Xavier a 7-6 lead.

Meanwhile Franzoni’s older brother, Paul Franzoni, a junior at NJIT, had an RBI double when the Highlanders dropped a 4-3 season-opening decision in 12 innings to Monmouth University.

Hack, a freshman at Seton Hall University, opened the door to his college career with a fine performance in the Pirates’ 2-1 weekend effort against Wake Forest, Illinois and Milwaukee.

The Pirates found themselves in a tight pitchers duel in their season-opener against 20th-ranked Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Demon Deacons came up in the bottom of the ninth in a 3-3 game and their lineup conveniently flipped to the top. Leadoff batter Michael Turconi, a lefty hitter, sliced a 2-2 pitch deep down the left field line but Hack raced over and dove flat out across the left field line to make an amazing catch in foul territory.

“When then ball went up I knew I had a good shot at catching it,” said Hack. “I got a really good jump and was able to make a play on it. The ball was slicing away from me and the wind was swirling around that day, but I trusted my route and it paid off.”

The catch appeared critical at the time in keeping Wake Forest at bay, but Chris Lanzilli stepped in with two outs and lifted a shot over the right field fence for a walk-off solo home run and a 4-3 victory. Hack went 0-for-3 in his collegiate opener but did draw a walk and score a run.

The Pirates used the sturdy performance against Wake Forest to come back and win their next two games, 10-2 and 17-1. Hack picked up his first college hit in a 10-2 victory over Illinois, going 2-for-4 and scoring a run. The Somerville High grad then went 1-for-2 with an RBI double in a 17-1 victory over Milwaukee.

“The weekend was a great experience,” said Hack. “It was fun being out there playing against such good competition. I was fortunate enough to be given that opportunity. We’re off to a good start and we’re going to keep working hard because we have some difficult opponents in the next couple weeks.”

Hack’s teammate and another former Diamond Jack, senior first baseman Matt Toke, hit a two-run home run, walked three times and scored two runs in the Milwaukee game.

Maldonado, a 6-1, 210-pound freshman righthander at defending national champion Vanderbilt, took the mound for the first time on Sunday during Vanderbilt’s 9-8 loss to Cal Poly. Maldonado pitched a scoreless seventh and eight innings to enable the Commodores to rally for an 8-7 lead. But Vanderbilt surrendered two runs in the bottom of the ninth as Cal Poly came back to stick the Commodores with a 1-2 start to their season.

Maldonado, a Seton Hall Prep grad, had missed almost all of his senior year of high school with an injury but looked strong in his college debut. He permitted no runs on just one hit and threw just 23 pitches while facing seven batters. Maldonado allowed a leadoff double in the seventh before the next batter reached on an error. But Nick got out of the jam with a fly out and an inning-ending double play. He then retired Cal Poly in order in the eighth inning.

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