By Bob Behre
Christian Hlinka had the kind of sophomore season at Delaware Valley High School in 2016 that would thrill most seniors, and that was from both an individual and team perspective.
His hard work was paying off and people were beginning to take notice.
Just two seasons into his high school career and during his sixth year as a Diamond Jack at Diamond Nation in Flemington, Hlinka drew the attention of one the nation’s top collegiate baseball programs. The center fielder from Kingwood quickly returned that affection.
The lefty-hitting Hlinka verbally committed a year ago to continue his baseball career at the University of Virginia, he thought, for the fall of 2018. Virginia, of course, won the 2015 College World Series championship a year after also reaching the final in 2014.
Hlinka, advanced academically, decided in April to forego his senior year at Delaware Valley and enroll a full year early at Virginia. He completed his high school graduation requirements by June in time to make the early jump to college.
He then had to take two college courses at Raritan Valley Community College this summer to meet Virginia's entrance requirements. He aced them both. Hlinka was not officially accepted to Virginia for the fall semester until July.
“I never expected a school like Virginia to pick me out,” said Hlinka. “Coach Mac (Virginia associate head coach Kevin McMullan) said he saw me the first tournament at Diamond Nation (last) summer. He said he saw my first at bat on a Sunday night and followed me for 11 days.”
Diamond Nation is a hotbed for recruiting each summer with college and pro scouts making themselves at home at the facility on River Road in Flemington, N.J.
Hlinka’s initial college attention came from Wake Forest a year earlier when he competed at a Perfect Game showcase in Georgia with his Diamond Jack teammates. Despite having just completed his freshman year of high school, Hlinka quickly ramped up his college search.
“I visited Wake Forest, Princeton, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Lehigh,” said Hlinka, who completed his three years at Delaware Valley with a 4.0 GPA, the maximum GPA awarded at the Hunterdon County school.
He also drew interest from Boston College, Pittsburgh and Maryland. But Virginia swooped in and grabbed the 6-2, 200-pound outfielder. “I toured the campus with coach Mac, stayed the whole day and visited the athletic facilities. It was really nice. I didn’t want a school that was too big and Virginia is medium-sized, about 13-15,000 students.”
Hlinka’s Delaware Valley team had a special season in the spring of 2016 with Hlinka alternating between center field and shortstop. He batted .350 and drove in a school-record 28 runs. The 28 RBI broke the school record he had set as a freshman when he drove in 25 runs. His four triples also tied a Delaware Valley record.
More importantly, Delaware Valley went 18-6 and won the school’s first NJSIAA sectional championship since 1959. The Terriers defeated Delran, 3-1, in the Central Jersey, Group 2 championship game. Hlinka went 1-for-3 with an RBI triple in that game.
“That was amazing,” said Hlinka. “Winning the conference was really big, too.”
Delaware Valley’s post-season run ended in the Group 3 semifinals where it dropped a 2-0 decision to eventual state champion West Deptford. The Terriers’ 8-1 record in the Skyland Conference’s Valley Division gave the team a share of that championship. Hlinka was an All-Conference selection at shortstop.
Hlinka batted .392 this past spring as a junior and was named to Second Team All-Group 2 by NJ.com.
Hlinka began his career at Diamond Nation with the 11U Diamond Jacks and spent the past summer with the Diamond Jacks’ outstanding Super 17 squad. He batted in the heart of the Super 17 order and played center field.
“Christian’s development since his early years with us has been tremendous,” said Steve DiTrolio, who coached Hlinka at the Diamond Jacks’ Super 16U level. “The strides he’s made to get to where he wanted to go are amazing. He’s worked hard and has always been committed to getting better.”
Hlinka has drawn adeptly from the deep well of coaching talent at his disposal at Diamond Nation.
“I have to give Steve, Kevin Cust and Travis Anderson a lot of credit for helping me a ton along the way,” said Hlinka.
But, to DiTrolio, Hlinka offers more than what you see on the field.
“His character is off the charts,” said DiTrolio. “He has a great skill set and that has made him attractive to college scouts.”
Hlinka, who ended his Diamond Jack career on Aug. 4 with a three-run, walk-off home run, leaves early Friday morning for Virginia.
DID YOU KNOW?
Coach McMullan, who took Christian Hlinka on his tour of the UVA campus, has ties to New Jersey. His wife, Sandra, is from Wayne. His father, John McMullan, was an All-American football player at Notre Dame and played in the NFL with the New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Titans (now the Jets).