King of the Hill

UTRGV's Trevelle Hill pitches against Texas Tech during the third inning Tuesday, February 27, 2018, in Edinburg.

EDINBURG – Some say the lights shine the brightest on Friday night football in Texas.

In college baseball, however, those Friday night lights illuminate a duel on the diamond between the top pitchers from opposing teams desperate to give their squad an edge in the series-opening game.

UTRGV (14-7) found their Friday night guy in Trevelle Hill, a 6-foot-3-inch right-handed pitcher from Tucson, Arizona who is in his second year with the Vaqueros after spending two seasons at Pima Community College. Hill, a senior, has shown tremendous strides since last season and has become the Vaqueros’ number-one threat on the mound, whether it be against a Western Athletic Conference foe or opponent from the Big 12.

“So, last year I came in with high expectations, still kind of questioning how things would be,” Hill said of his first year at the Div. I level. “Last year, it took me a while to kind of get used to how everything was rolling as far as traveling, nutrition and all that stuff. This year coming in, I knew what I had to do to better myself. I’m just trying to be the best version of me and I’m here.”

The best version of Hill has been on display early this year for the Vaqueros. He’s built a 4-1 record in five starts, which includes a 5-2 win over Oklahoma State and a complete game performance on the road against Kansas State. Last season, Hill started 12 games for UTRGV and finished with a 4-4 record.

“I know that I can compete there. I know that internally, and I know my teammates know they can compete too,” Hill said about going up against Power 5 programs. “When you have both the hitters and the pitchers on the same page knowing that the other team is not just going to come out here and drag us, if it’s Big 12, SEC, whoever they may be, just the mindset is a big part in a winning culture.”

The UTRGV mindset has changed over the past two years. Coach Derek Matlock took over the program and has turned the Vaqueros into a competitive team that will battle to the last out, resulting in the winning culture. One example of that is Hill’s success to start the 2019 season.

“His biggest quality is he loves to compete,” Matlock said. “If you put him against Washington, Texas Tech, all the big guys that he faced last year, Oklahoma State this year, he really gets up for that moment, he really loves to compete. His velocity is a lot better, it’s about three ticks up on velocity and he holds on to his velocity the whole game, he’s even stronger at the end of the game because he gained weight. He used to be an 85, 86 mph guy in the fourth, fifth and sixth inning, now he’s staying around 89 and hitting some 90s.”

In 2018, Hill pitched 76.1 innings, appearing in 19 games for the Vaqueros. In that time, he struck out 46 batters and ended the year with a 4.60 ERA.

This season, Hill has pitched just 32.2 innings, but has already racked up 35 strikeouts and a 2.48 ERA.

“He’s a great leader and a great worker, it’s just exciting to see a guy that’s that kind of team leader having that type of success,” Matlock said. “He’s a three-pitch mix guy, he throws a lot of strikes and loves to compete. Those are the guys you want on Friday night that can hold that bullpen in there, hardly have to use any of them and if you can win a game Friday night, you feel really good about winning the series.”

Hill will lead the Vaqueros into their opening series of WAC play this weekend against Sacramento State, heading a three-man rotation with Conner Dotson, a graduate student from the University of West Virginia, and redshirt senior Jerred Quartier.

By his own admission, Hill might have been a little too superstitious last year and let things get to him, but this season, he’s just letting things flow. You can catch him vibing out to tracks by Cardi B or Drake, trying to stay cool, calm and collected, but on the mound, he wants the lights to shine the brightest.

“I like having the control over the game. I know most people don’t really like the fact that everything lands on them, but I feel like me, I’m one of those guys who loves it,” Hill said. “I embrace the task and I go out there every weekend and try to get it done for our team, try to give us the best chance to win possible.”

UTRGV is set to begin conference play at 9 p.m. Friday with Hill on the mound as the Vaqueros travel to take on Sacramento State for a three-game series through Sunday.

bramos@themonitor.com