May 28, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

East Carolina right-hander Chris Heston deserves the recognition he earned as the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year after helping the Pirates to a No. 1 seed and their first-ever NCAA Regional on  their home field in Greenville, N.C.

The junior transfer from Seminole College is the second straight ECU pitcher to win the award after Justin Bristow took home the honor in 2008.  All Heston needed was the chance, and a little time, to prove worthy of the award.

“Coach (Billy Godwin) told me coming in that nothing was just given to anyone – all spots were open,” said Heston.  “I started the season off pitching on Saturdays and it went pretty well.  He decided to move me to Fridays once the conference season started and I’m loving it.  I’m getting a chance to pitch against other team’s No. 1 pitchers and set the tone for the weekend.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

In 15 appearances (14 starts), Heston has posted a 7-0 record with a 3.44 ERA in his first season at the Division I level. The native of Palm Bay, Fla., has a league-best 85 strikeouts and 32 walks in 86.1 innings pitched. In conference games he was 4-0 with 49 K's and 15 walks in 48.1 innings pitched.  Heston has struck out at least seven batters six times, and worked into the sixth inning in 13 appearances.

 “Coach said the reason they recruit junior college transfers is for us to come in and make an immediate impact,” said Heston.  “They obviously didn’t have as long to work with me, and try to recruit guys that can come in and get the job done on day one.  Luckily, with some good coaching they fixed some mechanical issues that I had going on last year.”

With the jump up in competition, although Heston had the tools to pitch against formidable Conference USA foes -- like Rice, Houston and Tulane -- his mental game need some work.

“The big thing was they worked on my confidence a lot,” said Heston.  “They put me in a lot of scrimmage games so I could throw against our team.  That helped a lot, and then I figured I was here for a reason and could go out and get the job done.”

Heston was admittedly nervous in his new role, but little by little, he showed belief in his abilities.

“It was the first time I’ve ever played in front of a crowd like this and against this type of competition,” said Heston.  “After getting used to it and having some success early in the year, my confidence definitely got built up.  That helps when you’re pitching any time.”

The Pirates have put together a 42-17 record this season, and won the C-USA regular season title for the first time.
“When a pitcher goes out there and isn’t doing the best, the bats pick him up,” said Heston.  “Everybody is hitting the ball and scoring runs for him.  Some days, when the hitters aren’t on the top of their game, the pitchers do their thing and keep it close.  It’s all of us working together.”

Heston will be the starter against Binghamton in the Pirates’ first regional game at Lewis Field at Clark-LeClair Stadium on May 29 at 7 p.m. ET, and he is thrilled with the opportunity.

“These are some of the best fans you could ask for,” said Heston.  “They told me before I started here that there were some great fans – rain, sleet, snow – it doesn’t matter and they show up.  We’ve had games that it’s been 40 degrees and raining and we’ve got a packed house.  Their dedication definitely gets us fired up.  They’re a big part of everything we’ve done this year.”

The Pirates will follow No. 2 South Carolina and No. 3 George Mason, which begins at 3 p.m. ET.