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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Freshman Heyer in uncharted territory

Rodney Haas / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Rodney Haas
Rodney Haas / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Prior to Friday night’s Arizona baseball season opener against Utah Valley University, head coach Andy Lopez and his players used words like “”workaholic”” and “”dominant”” to describe freshman pitcher Kurt Heyer.

The 6-foot-2, 196-pound freshman out of Huntington Beach, Calif., showed the stuff: the work ethic and the confidence to be a No. 1 guy, yet it was looking like the team would opt for 6-foot-5 sophomore and last year’s No. 2, Kyle Simon, as the team’s opening day starter.

But after Simon took a ball to the head in practice last week, Heyer got the call as the Friday-night guy, and, although expectations were already high, he blew them out of the water.

The freshman right-hander turned in a six-inning, one-run, 13-strikeout performance in an 8-1 victory against Utah Valley, giving Arizona its 2,500th win in program history.

“”For a young guy like that to go out and do what he did and have the rest of the freshmen sort of look and say, ‘Oh OK, you can show up to this level and get people out,'”” Lopez said. “”Kurt (Heyer) did a marvelous job; boy, he did a great job.””

Heyer’s performance earned him Pacific 10 Conference Pitcher of the Week honors. He was also dubbed one of three “”Louisville Slugger”” National Player of the Week winners by Collegiate Baseball.

The 13 strikeouts were also the most for an Arizona pitcher since prior ace and current Cleveland Indian Preston Guilmet struck out 15 against Stanford on April 13, 2007.

“”He was lights out,”” senior Rafael Valenzuela said of Heyer’s performance. “”The guy came out here early. He was pumped and ready to go.””

Not only did Heyer gain national recognition in his first collegiate start, but he also pitched his way into the Arizona baseball record books. His 13 strikeouts tied him for the second-most by a freshman pitcher in UA history behind Tim Schweitzer’s 16 strikeouts in 1991.

But Heyer fanned 13 in only six innings while Schweitzer achieved his total in seven and two-thirds innings, and the fact that it happened in his collegiate debut speaks volumes about his composure and demeanor.

Heyer was quick to credit the team’s defense and early run support for his record-setting debut, but it was his ability to get ahead in the count that allowed him to strike out 13 batters.

“”If I was able to get first pitch strikes, I was ahead of the batter, and I was able to go from there,”” he said. “”It’s really crucial to get first pitch strikes, because if you’re ahead of the hitter, you control the batter’s tempo, and they get off balance, so it’s easier to get them out.””

As Lopez said after the game, Heyer set the tone for what proved to be a successful, three-win weekend for Arizona. And with so many first-time Wildcats in the lineup, Heyer’s ability to come out and dominate in his collegiate debut undoubtedly sent waves of confidence through the slew of youngsters — evidenced by the 18-1 Saturday win and 8-7 come-from-behind Sunday victory.

With Simon pitching a gem in game two — eight innings of five-hit, one-run, seven-strikeout ball — the question becomes this: Who will take the mound Friday night when Long Beach State comes to Tucson?

Regardless of whether it is on Friday or Saturday, Heyer has already made a splash in the Pac-10 baseball circuit, and the season couldn’t have started off any better for the new-look Wildcats.

“”It was an honor to start off the season with a win,”” Heyer said. “”I thought it would be a little bit tougher, but I guess when you have your teammates backing you up every step of the way, it’s pretty simple now.””

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