SMITHFIELD -- Over the last 10 months, the right arm of Bryant University senior Vaughn Hayward has been in high demand all over New England.
In the early summer, Hayward, a 2009 graduate of Mount St. Charles, pitched for the Plymouth Pilgrims of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, and led the team in earned run average. He then discovered the Cotuit Kettleers of the prestigious Cape Cod League were seeking his services for their stretch run.
“I guess scouts had come out to watch me with Plymouth a couple of times, and they signed me to pitch for Cotuit in the playoffs,” said Hayward, who hails from Glendale. “We went on to win the Cape League championship, and that was a thrill. Mike Roberts coached them, and he’s the former Team USA manager, so playing for him was pretty cool.
“I started one game against Falmouth, and had two other appearances,” he said. “In the (5-2) win over Falmouth, I threw five innings of shutout ball, and didn’t allow a run through the first four.”
Now, with the collegiate baseball season in full swing, Hayward is back with the Bulldogs, picking up right where he left off in 2013.
In six appearances, four of them as a starter, he's recorded a 3-1 record with a 2.25 ERA in 24 1/3 innings. In that span, he's yielded 19 hits and eight walks, with 16 strikeouts. His foes' collective batting average is a mere .218.
“I'm off to a pretty good start this season,” said the quiet and reserved Hayward, a two-time All-Stater with the Mounties. “It's been tough pitching in this cold weather, but we practice in it all year, so I guess I'm used to it.”
His three wins came at Northeastern (3-0), at North Carolina A&T (1-0) and against UMass-Lowell, in a 5-4 home victory just last week. The lone loss came at the University of Maryland in the Bulldogs' third game of the season back in February.
As the staff ace, he's been a key in Bryant's solid 10-8 overall record (against non-league opponents) as of March 29. Other standout hurlers on the club include senior Craig Schlitter, junior Kevin McAvoy and sophomore Kyle Wilcox, all of them righties.
A year ago, the 6-2, 195-pound Hayward finished the Division I campaign within the Northeast Conference with a sparkling 1.54 ERA in 23 1/3 innings over 21 appearances, with two saves. His strong body of work helped put the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament.
“I just want a repeat of last year; we won the NEC, and then went onto the NCAA Regional at Kansas State,” he explained. “We played Arkansas in the first round (of the double-elimination event), and we beat them. Arkansas had been the preseason No. 1 (selection), and I think we surprised them.
“But then we lost to K-State before playing Arkansas again, and we lost that, too; that eliminated us,” he continued. “Still, that was probably the highlight of my baseball career, going to Manhattan (Kan.) and playing in the regional.
“It was disappointing, yes, but the camaraderie I had with my teammates and taking that journey together, I have to say that was the best part. Winning is great, of course, but being with the guys you worked so hard with and for all season, that was great.”
Following the summer season with the Pilgrims and Kettleers, Hayward set out to improve himself more during Bryant's “fall ball” campaign.
“I pitched for probably three weeks, but college baseball now lasts all year,” he claimed. “Over the winter, we all lifted to get stronger. I had a really good 'Scout Day' at Bryant; there were probably 30-40 there, and then we went back to lifting, did some running for conditioning and worked on the little things.
“We did that as soon as we got back from winter (Christmas) break.”
Since his last collegiate season, he's worked on perfecting his four-seam fastball, one of four pitches in the arsenal he relies on to retire opposing hitters. The others include a curve, cutter and change-up.
“I'd have to say my most improved pitch is the fastball,” he offered. “This past summer, I topped out at 94-95 (mph). In a perfect world, I'd be up around 97-98, so I'm still working on it. The big thing about pitching is you have to pitch, not throw. If your speed is way up but you're all over the place, you're not going to get anywhere.
“I just want a successful year, that's all. I just want to help my team win. I don't worry about any of that other stuff, the individual stats and those kinds of things. I'm just trying to pitch the best I can each and every time out there. Like they say, it's one game at a time.”