Senior infielder JD Hearn has the seventh-ranked, division-leading University of California San Diego baseball program off to a 22-6 mark past the midway point of the 2017 campaign. The Tritons are heading into a critical stretch of their season whereby they welcome the top-ranked Chico State Wildcats into La Jolla for a three-game series this Saturday (1 p.m. DH) and Sunday (12 p.m.), April 8-9, ahead of a four-game set with two-time reigning West Region champion Cal Poly Pomona the following week. On the heels of Spring Break and in the lead-up to the massive showdown with the rival 'Cats, Hearn took some time to be our latest guest for Triton Q&A.
Q: Your younger brother Matt is in the Atlanta Braves' minor-league system. Did you guys ever get to play together on any teams growing up? How do your strengths compare to his?
HEARN: Yes, my brother and I played on several different sports teams growing up. We played together on football, soccer, basketball and baseball teams. In terms of baseball, we are totally different players. He's a left-handed outfielder with a ton of speed and quickness. I would say we both possess an immense passion for the game of baseball and we were raised to always play hard.
Q: The recently-concluded World Baseball Classic was by all accounts a very popular event, helped by the fact of course that Team USA won it for the first time. Did you watch much of it? Any thoughts? Was there a specific player whom you were most impressed by?
HEARN: I really enjoyed watching the WBC this year and the way it possessed a World Series like atmosphere in terms of the way each game was played. One aspect that really stood out to me was the passion and emotion all the players expressed throughout the tournament. You don't get to see that type of emotion from guys of that caliber very often. I was most impressed by the play of Netherlands outfielder, Wladimir Balentien.
Q: You're a fan of the San Francisco Giants. With the Major League Baseball season just starting, how do you see the World Series shaping up this year?
HEARN: I hope to see the Giants win the World Series this year. The acquisition of Mark Melancon will fix the Giants' bullpen struggles last year and propel them past the Cubs in the National League. World Series Prediction: Giants beat Red Sox (4-2).
Q: You list "all forms of meat" as your favorite food. Can you narrow that down for us any? Are we talking tri-tip? Your basic steak?
HEARN: If I had to narrow it down to one, chicken would probably be the go-to.
Q: As a senior team leader, what can you say about a pitching staff that was so incredibly young last year and is now a year older with the sixth-best ERA in Division II?
HEARN: I think a lot of people could see this coming with having such young pitching last year as well as some arm injuries. Coming into this year, there was a lot of excitement on how good our pitching staff could potentially be. I think (pitching) Coach (Justin) James has stepped in and done a fantastic job developing these pitchers more and more everyday, picking up on where (former pitching) Coach (Rob) Avila left the staff. Our pitching staff works extremely hard and have really bought in to their culture as a unit. Preston Mott provides a consistent start every Friday night and the rest of our staff builds off of that. The additions of Kyle Goodbrand and Adrian Orozco to the staff were huge. Blaine Jarvis has made tremendous improvements to become a strong middle relief guy for us. We also strengthened the back end up our bullpen with Jonah Dipoto and the return of Troy Cruz. We have complete confidence in any guy we put on the mound and know he will compete.
Q: Not just on the pitching side, but all around, this appears to be a very deep group, that has already navigated through several injuries. How encouraging has it been that the team has kept an upward trajectory even through those absences?
HEARN: It has been extremely encouraging, but at the same time, not surprising. Since the first week of practice, we knew how deep our team was. We sat down together and developed a strong culture that has allowed us to fight through adversity and injuries. We told each other that no matter who is on the field, we are all accountable for that person and will always back them. We are a closely knit group and everyone pushes each other to be better. We have also been finding ways to win games even when we don't particularly play well and we feel like we are never out of it, which is good to see early in the season. We all want the same thing and that's the opportunity to play for a national championship.
Q: The guy across the diamond, sophomore Tyler Durna, is arguably the most improved player in the conference. Talk about what you're seeing out of him at the plate, and also how it feels to know that from third base, you can essentially just "put it in the area" and feel pretty good about him corralling it.
HEARN: Tyler has been seeing the ball very well and looks extremely confident at the plate. He struggled early on in the season but went to work in the cage and adjusted a few things. His work ethic not only at practice, but also in the weight room have led him to success on the field. I'm happy for him and it's exciting to watch him put everything together. Defensively, the kid is a rock at first base. His athleticism makes all of our infielders feel comfortable throwing the ball across the diamond. It seems like you could throw a ball five feet to the left or right of the bag and he somehow manages to catch it and keep his foot on the bag.
Q: After stops at Mission College and UC Santa Barbara, quickly walk us through how you came to be a Triton?
HEARN: After leaving Santa Barbara, I was looking for another place to transfer and play baseball at. I talked to a handful of schools and after talking to Coach Newman, I knew UCSD was a great fit for me.
Q: It took you a little while to get going offensively in your debut season as a Triton, but you finished with a flurry, at .318, and are currently hitting .317 this year. What was it that enabled you to turn things around?
HEARN: The constant support from my teammates, coaches, and family played a huge role. I definitely struggled when I got here, but my coaches and teammates still believed in me and never gave up on me. I can't thank them enough.
Q: Included in that hot finish in 2016 was a two-run, game-tying double in the ninth inning before scoring the winning run on Steven Coe's walk-off single against rival Chico State at the CCAA Championship. How big a thrill was that sequence? Where might that hit rank in your playing career?
HEARN: Honestly, those are the type of moments that make people love baseball. There is no better feeling than watching that ball drop and tying the game up right there. Our bullpen was unbelievable that game, which allowed us to be in that situation and keep our season alive. It was definitely one of my favorite moments as a baseball player.
Q: Speaking of Chico State, that's who pays Triton Ballpark a visit next in a marquee showdown of divisional leaders in the CCAA. What about that matchup brings out the best in both programs, and what are you most looking forward to about facing them at home for the first time?
HEARN: I'm really excited to play and compete against them this weekend. I know our team has been looking forward to this matchup for a while. They are having a great season and are playing really well. Playing Chico has turned into an intense rivalry and I know both teams will be ready to play. Every game feels like a playoff game when we matchup against each other.
Q: What are some of the options you are considering for after this year? It would appear that you've at least given yourself the potential for an opportunity in professional baseball. Is that the hope?
HEARN: Right now I'm focused on our team and our goals as a team. But in the future, I would love to play professional baseball. It has been a dream of mine since I was a kid and I have been working my whole life for that opportunity. So yes, that is a hope.
Q: What needs to happen in order for you to maintain this form and get back into the NCAA tournament, and then make it that next step to a regional championship that has eluded the program since 2010?
HEARN: We just need to show up and compete every single pitch. If we can do that, this team has a great opportunity to do something special. We also need to avoid being content with the position we are in right now and go get what we want. I know we are hungry to put a number on the banner this year. We just need to go get it and not sit back and wait for it to happen.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Britta Mosser (Women's Tennis) March 22, 2017
Michael Cohn (Men's Swimming & Diving) February 22, 2017
Dalayna Sampton (Women's Basketball) February 8, 2017
Milosh Stojcic (Men's Volleyball) January 27, 2017
Chris Hansen (Men's Basketball) December 26, 2016
Cassie MacLeod (Women's Basketball) December 16, 2016
Natalie Tang (Women's Swimming & Diving) November 18, 2016
Nolan Mac (Men's Soccer) October 13, 2016
Scott Acton (Men's Cross Country) October 6, 2016
Marie Paris (Women's Volleyball) September 16, 2016
Kiera Bocchino (Women's Soccer) September 2, 2016
Nick Alexander (Men's Water Polo) August 23, 2016
Karina Carstens (Women's Cross Country) August 8, 2016
Amanda Colla (Women's Volleyball) July 22, 2016
Palano Twins (Men's Soccer) July 13, 2016
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