By CONOR NICHOLL
Andrew Heck entered Duquense (Pa.) University as a first team all-section choice and a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette All-Star after a successful career at North Hills High School. Heck started as a true freshman in 2008 for Duquesne, but hit .222 with 53 strikeouts in 54 games. Heck's summer league high school coach taught the shortstop/pitcher a valuable lesson: you have to fail before you succeed.
"He told me last year when I was striking out all those times at the beginning, he was like all happy and 'good for you, good for you,' " Heck said. "I was getting ticked off about it and he said, 'if you keep working, success will come.' "
Heck posted a .277 average last summer for the Hays Larks, and then a .314 average and team-best 3.78 earned-run average this spring for Duquesne. Heck returned to Hays for the 2009 season and posted a solid summer. Heck was one of seven Larks, including five on the first team, to earn all-Jayhawk League honors. The team was announced last week. Hays finished 32-16 overall and earned runner-up finish in the Jayhawk League to El Dorado. The Larks tied for fourth at the National Baseball Congress World Series, while El Dorado won the national title.
Heck, named by Larks' manager Frank Leo as his best multi-dimensional player in 27 years, posted a sterling summer with a .360 batting average, team-best .532 slugging percentage and a 6-0 record and 1.79 ERA in a team-high 751βΡ3 innings. In Jayhawk League play, Heck pitched the second-most innings in the conference (53 2/3 ) and finished 2-0 with 2.05 ERA.
Heck, who has improved his numbers every season of spring and summer baseball, was named the No. 3 prospect in the Jayhawk League by Baseball America.
"You are going to have failure at some point and he (my summer coach) was happy that it was happening early for me and he told that I would be better off next year and I think he proved that he was right," Heck said.
Heck, who earned all-utility honors, was joined on the first team by center fielder Brandon Eckerle, a second team Jayhawk League selection last summer. Eckerle was the only other Lark ranked on Baseball America's top 10 list when he checked in at No. 10.
Second baseman Jason Morriss, starting pitcher Kurt Wunderlich and closer Eric Rose each earned first team. The second team had shortstop Sean Wilson and utilityman Rafael Valenzuela. El Dorado first baseman/designated hitter Wes Cunningham, the league's leader hitter with a .402 average and the No. 1 Jayhawk League selection by Baseball America, earned Jayhawk League Player of the Year honors. Chris Craycraft, El Dorado's ace, was Pitcher of the Year. Heck, though, did figure into the POY voting.
"Heck did get some votes, it was just that Cunningham and Craycraft were on the team that won the league title and I think that if we had been in the hunt all year long rather than a late season surge, maybe it had been a different outcome," Leo said.
Eckerle, the team's leadoff hitter, finished the summer with a team-high .382 average, and 68 hits, which tied for 10th in Larks' history. His 26 stolen bases tied for eighth. In addition, he had five outfield assists and one error in 44 games in center field.
"He is just so fast," Wunderlich, Eckerle's teammate at Michigan State, said. "That helps. You can just chop balls and just get out there where most guys would be out by four or five steps. He would beat it out by two steps. Just his defensive range, he has been hosing guys at home, too, so he has been all around. He has been picking everybody up."
Morriss, an Australia native, stayed in the United States this summer instead of returning home. The choice produced a .312 average and team-bests in games played (47), starts (47), at-bats (186), doubles (13) and assists (149). He committed seven errors, played sparkling defense at the NBC World Series and earned All-American honors. His double-play partner, Wilson, hit .263 with eight doubles.
"He held up good," Leo said of Morriss. "I did not see a significant dropoff in his play come the middle of July. Just the way it played out, the same with Wilson, we sat him a little bit because he had that tender shoulder at times.
"Morriss was never really banged up," Leo added. "He played through a little sliding injury on his hand where he tore the palm of his hand a little bit. Had to put some tape on that. Outside of that, he stayed pretty physically strong the while summer."
Wunderlich, who started the summer in the bullpen, moved into the rotation in mid-June, and went 6-0 with a 2.52 ERA. Wunderlich and Heck became the fourth and fifth pitchers in Hays history to go 6-0 or better.
"When we signed him, I knew that he was going to play some kind of significant role," Leo said. "Maybe as closer, but maybe I was thinking with Chase Johnson coming back, use Chase as a closer, maybe Wunderlich would go into that starting. That part didn't surprise me that he did play a significant role. He was just outstanding every time he pitched. He had one bad outing."
Rose started slowly with a 14.29 ERA after his first five appearances. In the final 37 games, he had a 0.88 ERA and finished with a 1-1 record, 3.76 ERA and eight saves, second-most in team history. Leo said "in my eyes he was" the best relief pitcher in the league. Valenzuela, who arrived late and missed part of the summer for family functions, hit .367 in 109 at-bats.
"He is a very controlled hitter," Leo said. "When he is in there, he has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do and he will make a few bad swings, but typically when he puts a swing on it, it will be a pretty good swing."
Heck did everything well for the Larks. In the NBC World Series, he batted .500 (8-for-16) with 5 RBI, including a game-winning single against Crestwood (Ill.) On the mound, he finished second in the tournament with 16 innings pitched and went 2-0 with a 1,69 ERA. Heck, though, was not named to the All-American team at any position, a surprising move. Mike Williams from Valley Center earned NBC All-American honors at utility (Heck's likely position since he pitched, played left and was the DH) though Williams hit .273 (3-for-11) with no RBIs.
"It still irks me a little bit," Leo said.
However, Heck, helped by his high school summer coach, received high honors from Baseball America and the Jayhawk League after a terrific summer.
"You have to learn that failure is hard and I think that once you learn to get through it the first time, it gets a little easier the next time once you start going south," Heck said. "It's a little easier to turn it back around."