Wade takes reins as the Friday night pitcher, shuts down Coppin State
With the Arizona men’s baseball team still joyfully celebrating a National Championship on the field, ace pitcher Kurt Heyer separated himself from the postgame festivities and made his way over to teammate and fellow pitcher Konner Wade. Heyer, a three-year Friday starter for the Wildcats, whispered in Wade’s ear not words of exaltation but rather advice for the year-younger sophomore.
“It’s your turn man,” Heyer said on the late-June night in Omaha, Neb. “It’s your turn.”
With Heyer now in the Major League system, the coveted Friday spot was finally open for grabs. The next man up was Wade, and in Arizona’s 16-0 win over Coppin State, the junior made the designation his own.
“I just tried to take it as any other game,” Wade said. “I wasn’t really dwelling on it being a Friday night. I just tried to go out there and get a win.”
The humble starter quickly pointed out how he got behind too many times in the count, something he plans to fix in his next start. Even still, it was hard to find too much wrong in Wade’s first shot as the ace.
“Konner was lights out tonight,” center fielder Johnny Field said. “That’s what I expected and I know he expects that, and he just came out and dominated the strike zone and pitched the crap out of it tonight.”
Wade went six innings without allowing a hit, and didn’t walk a batter until the final third of the fifth inning. Only one batter on Coppin State managed to get the ball out of the infield before David Hamlett’s liner to left field broke up the no-hitter.
The Eagles are coming off a 1-52 campaign last season, making Coppin State a rather easy game for Wade to get his feet wet. While the difficulty of the opposing lineup might have been weak, though, there was plenty else going on Friday night to distract Wade.
A huge crowd of 5,145 came to Hi Corbett Field to celebrate the first game of the Wildcats’ title defense. Five of the departed stars from the 2012 team threw out the opening pitch and fireworks shined in the sky after the final out to ring in the new season. Wade’s ability to concentrate through all of it impressed head coach Andy Lopez.
“The thing that pleased me the most is that there was a lot of area to be distracted tonight, and rightly so… But, for the most part I thought he did a marvelous job,” Lopez said.
“Short of a couple of elephants and giraffes in center field, it was all going [on] here… I thought he did a good job.”
While he sometimes struggled with location, throwing strikes on 64.1 percent of his throws, he got the Eagles batters to swing and miss on plenty of occasions. He had eight strikeouts in the game, overpowering Coppin State with his 92-mile per hour fastball.
With Heyer in attendance, and even taking part in mid-inning pop-fly catching contest, Wade made the best of the advice he received in June. Words that resonated with him, especially on Friday night.
“It was special because he’s been the guy I’d been trying to compete with for the past couple of years,” Wade said about the advice he encouragement he received. “(Heyer) has been a great pitcher and taught me a lot. For him to kind of pass the reins on to me felt great.”
Last season as the Saturday starter, Wade went 11-3 with a 3.96 ERA and six complete games in his 21 appearances. While dominant at times during the regular season, he really made his mark in the postseason. Wade posted a perfect 4-0 record, with a 1.29 ERA and threw a complete game in Arizona’s 5-1 win against South Carolina in the game two of the national championship.
And the man he’s now replacing is confident Wade can excel in the his new role.
“He’s going to handle it easily,” Heyer said. “What he did in the postseason last year, he definitely grew into his own.”“[I’m] passing the baton over to him and I just can’t wait to see what he does this year.”