Despite a tough regular season at the plate, Jacob Heyward remains confident as the Hurricanes’ second season begins.
“Even though I’ve struggled, I still had hits where our team needed them,” Heyward said Monday before the top-seeded University of Miami baseball team left for the ACC tournament in Durham, North Carolina.
The Hurricanes will need their junior left fielder to come through in the clutch this postseason as they eye their first conference tournament title since 2008 and a second straight trip to the College World Series in Omaha.
“I’ve just got to stay prepared, stay ready for everything that’s thrown at me,” Heyward said.
Heyward was certainly prepared for an 11th-inning pitch from Pittsburgh reliever Yaya Chentouf earlier this month, smacking it over the left field wall for a walk-off homer and adding another clutch hit to his Hurricane résumé.
At last June’s College World Series, his single gave Miami a walk-off win against Arkansas. A week earlier, he lined a base hit up the middle to score the first two runs of the Hurricanes’ super regional against VCU. Earlier this month, Heyward drove in five runs in a single game and helped the Hurricanes earn a series victory against his hometown school, Georgia Tech.
“It was just great to have my family and friends there,” Heyward said of the Georgia Tech series. “There are a lot of guys I know on that team…it felt good to get a ‘W’.”
While Heyward played high school baseball at Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy in McDonough, Georgia, his older brother Jason won Gold Gloves and division titles as an outfielder for the Atlanta Braves about 25 miles to the north.
“I don’t know what it was like not to have him play for the Braves,” the younger Heyward said. “I loved being able to go see him right there if I had to.”
Jacob struggled offensively during his first year as a full-time starter for the Hurricanes, but he wasn’t the only Heyward in an April hitting slump.
“There was definitely a stretch where he was hitting balls hard, right at people,” Jacob Heyward said of Jason. “I think it was the same week that I was hitting balls hard, right at people.”
Jason Heyward managed only nine hits in his first 53 at-bats as a Chicago Cub but batted .316 over a nine-game mid-May hitting streak. Over his last nine games, Jacob is hitting .273, a solid stretch that has raised his season average to .227.
“It’s not as big of a struggle as most people think it would be, looking at my average,” Jacob Heyward said. “My coaches definitely keep me positive.”
Those coaches, including associate head coach Gino DiMare, continue to believe in Heyward’s ability.
“He’s still kept a good discipline (at the plate),” DiMare said. “He hasn’t chased bad pitches, so he’s had a lot of walks.”
Heyward ranks second on the Hurricanes with 38 walks this season, but DiMare believes he is capable of more.
“He’s got as much bat speed and power as anybody on our team…we need him to tap into that.”
Top-seeded Miami begins ACC Tournament pool play Wednesday, and while his older brother plays for a division title on Chicago’s North Side, Jacob Heyward hopes to add an ACC Tournament ring to his own trophy case.
“We keep in good contact,” Jacob Heyward said of his relationship with his older brother. “We’re focused on our goal…all we really care about is helping our teams right now.”
As the postseason begins, the Hurricanes will take all the help that Heyward can provide.
Where: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Durham, North Carolina
When: The tournament began Tuesday, May 24. Pool Play begins Wednesday, May 25, and continues through Saturday, May 28.
▪ Wednesday @ 3 PM vs. Boston College or Georgia Tech
▪ Thursday @ 7 PM vs. NC State
▪ Saturday @ 3 PM vs. Florida State
Florida State Schedule
▪ Wednesday @ 11 AM vs. NC State
▪ Thursday @ 3 PM vs. Boston College or Georgia Tech
▪ Saturday @ 3 PM vs. Miami
The ACC Championship Game is Sunday at Noon on ESPN2