HEPPNER — Heppner is a football town, but this spring the baseball team is making people sit up and take notice.
The Mustangs are 8-1 heading into a doubleheader at Riverside on Saturday, May 8, largely in part to the work Hayden Hyatt has put in on the mound.
The senior, right-handed pitcher has thrown 30-2/3 innings over six games. He has given up nine hits, one unearned run, has walked 16 and struck out 40. He boasts a 6-0 record with a sterling 0.00 earned run average.
Hyatt’s performance has surprised himself and Mustangs coach Tim Wilkins.
“This is the first time I have had someone like this and I have been here five years,” Wilkins said. “It’s nice to have him. He’s always worked super hard, but his velocity has really improved over the past two years.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Hyatt said the key to his success this season hasn’t just come from endless hours of work.
“I just have all the faith in the world in the guys around me,” he said. “I trust they will make plays. When I don’t have to worry about that, I can do my job better.”
Those guys include Jackson Lehman at first base, third baseman Toby Nation, Mike Jaca at second and shortstop Carson Eynetich. All but Nation have grown up in the program together.
“Toby just moved here this year from Oklahoma, but he is a solid player all around,” Hyatt said. “He has all my trust when I’m on the mound.”
No one has put a radar gun on Hyatt this season, and he’s not sure he wants to see those numbers. While he doesn’t baffle hitters with his speed, he has a couple of pitches that catch them off guard and freshman catcher Cameron Proudfoot calls a good game.
“One of my favorite pitches is my curveball, and my second favorite is my knuckle ball,” Hyatt said. “Cameron is learning and doing pretty well back there.”
Hyatt said he doesn’t keep track of his stats on a regular basis, but he is aware of his earned run average of zero.
“It’s such a surreal thing,” he said. “It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind thing.”
But it is something the Oregon School Activities Association keeps track of.
The lowest ERA for one season (a minimum of 50 innings) belongs to Rich Farthing of Corvallis High School, 0.11, set in 1969. Devin Muir of Days Creek is second at 0.12 (2010) and Jacob Fricke of Glide is third with 0.19 (2015).
There is a state-mandated pitch count of no more than 110 per day, and there are required days of rest. Hyatt has been able to keep his pitch count down so that he can throw on Tuesday and again on Saturday. His season high is 99 pitches through six innings against Sherman on May 1.
Hyatt is one of five quality pitchers in the Mustangs’ stable, along with Nation, Jaca, Eynetich and Tucker Ashbeck.
“We are deeper at pitcher than we have ever been,” Wilkins said. “Toby is close to Hayden velocity wise, but he’s not as accurate.”
While his performance on the mound is second to none, Hyatt still is a work in progress at the plate this season.
He is hitting .233 with two doubles and four RBIs, but the heavy hitting has been done by Lehman, Ashbeck, Jaca and Kason Cimmiyotti.
“My play at the plate has been lacking for me, and it has been frustrating,” Hyatt said. “I’m working pretty hard in practice to improve on that.”
Wilkins said it’s just a matter of time before Hyatt gets his timing back.
“He has always hit really well and has had a high average,” Wilkins said, “but having a year off has affected everyone’s swing.”
It’s been more than six years since the Mustangs have had a winning season on the diamond. An 8-1 start is not something Hyatt foresaw.
“I can speak for the guys around me, they are surprised as well,” Hyatt said. “It’s taken high intensity, dedication and communication, which has been at an all-time high since I’ve been in high school. We put our nose to the grindstone this season, for sure.”
Hyatt also plays football for the Mustangs, but sports beyond high school are not in his plans.
“Baseball would be my No. 1 pick if I were to go to the next level,” he said. “I don’t have any offers, so I think I will stick with going to work.”
Before then, the Mustangs have six games remaining, and Hyatt has an opportunity to add his name to the OSAA record book.