John Hayes won two state titles in the 400-meter dash at Pottsboro (Texas) High and Big 12 schools wanted him to run. Baseball offered no guarantees, other than a redshirt season at Galveston College.
“I just hate running,” he said. “It was more of like a punishment, I felt like. Even when I won, it just wasn’t fun.”
Baseball, even with its uncertainty, won out. Hayes banked on his own work ethic when choosing his future sport.
“I was definitely better at track,” he said. “I wasn’t really a hard thrower. But I loved baseball more, so I figured I would work harder to get better.”
Hayes did get better and Wichita State is the beneficiary. He is WSU’s best arm out of the bullpen and enters the weekend series against New Mexico (24-16) with a 2.25 ERA and 11 strikeouts over his past four appearances. In Missouri Valley Conference games, the right-hander compiled a 0.79 ERA in 11 1/3 innings, with 12 strikeouts and three walks. The Shockers (14-26) will try to use Hayes’ right arm twice on weekends, if they can get to the late innings with a lead.
The Shockers have lost nine of their past 12 games and Hayes played a major role in two of those victories. He pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out four, in Friday’s 5-3 win at Bradley. He also pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in a 5-3 win over Indiana State three weeks ago in a series opener.
“He’s the one guy out of the bullpen right now that we have great trust in,” WSU coach Todd Butler said. “It would be nice to be able to throw him 30 pitches on Friday and bring him back for 15 to 30 on Sunday.”
Hayes (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) started his progression from Class 2A 400-meter champion to closer at Galveston College.
“I was an 80-82 (mph) thrower and didn’t have much of a breaking pitch,” he said. “I just kind of threw the ball and hoped for the best. But I knew I was kind of tall and I could start throwing hard one day.”
He didn’t play his first season in college, but regular sessions of long toss started strengthening his arm. He transferred to Murray (Okla.) State, where he continued to grow and added a changeup to his fastball, now in the upper 80s and low 90s mph, and slider.
“It started rolling from there,” he said. “I started developing some out pitches. Once I got here, it was even better so that me helped progress. I had to make pitches. You couldn’t miss down the middle and get away with it.”
Hayes, 40 pounds heavier than his high schools days, can’t run those 400 times these days. As a senior at Pottsboro, he ran a 47.94 to win the state meet and finished second in 200 with a time of 22.06 in 2011.
While his endurance isn’t what it once was, he is considered perhaps the fastest on the baseball team. It isn’t always easy for position players to admit a pitcher might beat them in a sprint.
“I’d have to give it to him,” outfielder Michael Burns said. “I’ve never raced him because I don’t want to know. He’s got those long legs. When he runs poles (in the outfield), it doesn’t look like he’s touching the ground. He flies.”
New Mexico at Wichita State
When: 6:30 p.m., Friday
Where: Eck Stadium
Records: UNM 24-16, WSU 14-26
Pitchers: UNM, LH Toller Boardman (7-1, 2.57 ERA); RH Isaac Anderson (4-5, 3.91 ERA)
Radio: KNSS, 1330 AM
TV: Cox 22
New Mexico at Wichita State
Pitchers: NM — LH Toller Boardman (7-1, 2.57 ERA), RH Tyler Stevens (2-3, 2.45), LH Luis Gonzalez (4-2, 4.72); WSU — RH Isaac Anderson (4-5, 3.91 ERA), RH Chase Williams (1-3, 7.61), LH Sam Hilliard (0-3, 7.23)
Series: 6:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
▪ The Lobos have won eight of their past nine games after Tuesday’s 22-3 win over New Mexico State. Since a loss to Kansas on April 8, New Mexico is hitting .375 and outscored opponents 85-26. They are 13-8 in the Mountain West Conference, good for third place.
▪ New Mexico C Cory Voss, a freshman, is hitting .375 with four home runs and 11 doubles. 3B Carl Stajduhar, also a freshman, is hitting .302 with 17 doubles and four home runs. DH Chris DeVito leads the team with six home runs and 38 RBIs. DeVito did not play Tuesday due to a foot injury. 2B Sam Haggerty may return this weekend after missing most of the past 28 games with a strained oblique. Boardman has allowed one run in 14 2/3 innings in his previous two starts.
▪ WSU 1B Ryan Tinkham brings an 19-game hitting streak into the series. In those games he has seven doubles and all six of his homer runs. Tinkham has reached base in 38 of 40 games this season. CF Daniel Kihle is hitting .402 in 21 home games.
▪ WSU is closing in on the program record for losses, set when the 1978 team went 43-30 in its first season after the school dropped the program. WSU’s last losing season was in 1970, when the Shockers went 6-17. The Shockers play 15 more regular-season games, all against teams ranked in the top 82 of the RPI. New Mexico is No. 58.