Maturity could lead to success

Kurt Heyer's maturity has led to more success this season and it could lead to even more accomplishments this season.

It would be cradled, hugged, and loved before every game. It was his baby, a small, chalk-white, five-ounce baby, with red stitching up and down the face. The baby was the game ball, which Arizona ace Kurt Heyer slept with before every start up until this year.

"I don't do that kind of stuff anymore," says a chuckling Heyer. "The ball was kind of like my binky, it was just time to grow up."

And grow up he has.

Heyer has gone from a pitcher just trying to make the starting staff as a freshman, to a legitimate successor to former UA great Preston Guilmet, who graduated after the 2009 season.

Going into opening night last year, it was Kyle Simon who was slated as Arizona's Friday night starter. But after getting hit by a line drive a few days earlier, it was Heyer who got the surprising call to the mound.

"My pitching coach came to me like two days before and told me I was starting," says Heyer. "I was like wait what? I didn't really know how to take it. I honestly didn't think a freshman would ever get that chance."

After falling behind in the count 2-0 to the first hitter of the game, he came back to strike out his first collegiate batter, eventually leading to his first victory as an Arizona Wildcat.

"You know, after I struck that guy out, I said to myself ‘you know this isn't that different'," he said. "It was just like high school, everyone was just bigger, faster, and stronger."

Like in high school, Heyer took the college baseball world by storm, essentially rewriting the UA's freshman record books. He set the new freshman record for lowest season ERA (3.26) as well as the school's freshman record for strikeouts in a season (109).

While all this was great for Heyer personally, the team sputtered down the stretch last year, dropping its last six series and 13 of its final 19 regular season games.

This year however, Heyer is more than just the ace of the staff, he's one of the leaders of the team on and off the field.

"I was ignorant last year," he says. "I didn't know about anything on the outside. I was just focusing on my game. This year I've tried to focus on the team as a whole. I feel it's my job to win Friday night games now and if I don't, it's a failure."

UA head coach Andy Lopez is just one of many who has witnessed the growth of his young pitcher, as he used Heyer twice in a five day span last week in an effort to stop Arizona's recent slide.

"Had to use him," says Lopez. "It was a no brainer. He's the best we got. I told him in front of his peers just how much we appreciate his effort. He's a leader, no doubt."

Thanks to Heyer and a three-game sweep of USC last weekend, Arizona's back in the conference race and sitting just two games out of third place with still nine conference games remaining.

Heyer's last win in 2010 came on April 16 in a game against Washington State. He went the entire rest of the regular season without picking up another one.

"Maybe it was because I was young at the time," he says. "But you can't really use that as an excuse because no one cares."

This year Heyer is already just one win away from equaling his win total from a year ago. But as he alluded to before, no one is going to care unless this team is playing to June.

"It's all about winning," says teammate Jett Bandy. "(Heyer) backs us up and we need to do the same. That's what a team is about."

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