Andrew Hutchinson has been a multimedia reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2014.
Former Hog joining Arkansas in Charlottesville
Scott Heather, a pitcher and student coach at Arkansas in the late 1990s, led Bucknell to a Patriot League regular season and tournament championship in his second season as a head coach. (courtesy photo/Bucknell Athletics)
FAYETTEVILLE Scott Heather is a man of opportunity.
When he had an opportunity to play baseball in the SEC, he took it. When he had one to become a coach at the Division I level, he took it, too.
Friday afternoon will present another opportunity for Bucknell’s head coach. The Bison open the Charlottesville Regional against the host school and No. 3 national seed Virginia Friday at 1 p.m. Central.
“We know that it’s possible to win,” Heather said. “Our goal is to not give the other team extra outs or free bases.”
It will be Heather’s first trip to the Regionals as a head coach and the latest stop in a journey as a coach that has deep roots in the state of Arkansas.
After a stint at Arizona Western College, where he was the team MVP of the No. 3 junior college in the country, Heather became a two-year letterman pitching for Norm DeBriyn at Arkansas in the late 1990s. As a junior he pitched a lot and even started a few SEC games. Midway through his senior season, he was moved into the bullpen.
“He came in and did a nice job for us,” DeBriyn said. “He wasn’t a stopper, but he was effective.”
After playing with the Duluth Dukes of the independent Northern League in 1998, Heather came back to Fayetteville to pursue his dream of becoming a coach.
He joined DeBriyn’s staff as a student assistant in 1999, helping the Razorbacks win their first SEC regular season championship. It was also the first season Arkansas hosted an NCAA Regional.
During his three years at Arkansas as a player and coach, Heather said he picked up on several of DeBriyn’s traits as a coach.
“His attention to detail is one of the first things I take from him,” Heather said. “He was also willing to look at himself and sometimes put too much blame on himself.”
Despite having only one year of coaching experience, Heather was hired as an assistant at UA-Fort Smith, then a community college known as WestArk in 2000.
His dedication and hard work were evident in the interview process, UAFS head coach Dale Harpenau said.
“Scott possessed those qualities you look for,” Harpenau said. “I knew he was a guy I wanted involved in the program.”
Within a year at UAFS, Heather was given the pitching coach title. Harpenau said that being as young as he was actually benefitted the team.
“He did a tremendous job with those guys,” Harpenau said. “He can really relate to them. Scott’s always had a calm demeanor about him, which all great leaders have.”
After five seasons with the Lions, Heather left UAFS to become an assistant coach at Bucknell in Pennsylvania. Shohn Doty, a former Arkansas Tech player and UA graduate assistant that joined the UAFS staff, actually helped him get the job.
Doty had spent six seasons as an assistant coach on the east coast at UNC-Wilmington and Old Dominion, and told Heather about the position at Bucknell.
“It was time for something new and time to try to grow a little as a coach,” Heather said. “The summer before, I looked at a lot of opportunities. I really wanted to get into Division I.”
Like at Arkansas where he served under the 33-year coaching veteran DeBriyn, Heather was an assistant for another long-tenured coach, Gene Depew, at Bucknell.
Serving as Depew’s pitching coach, Heather again tried to learn as much as possible.
“He was the most consistent guy I ever met in my life,” Heather said. “He’s the same guy whether he’s up or down.”
When Depew retired after 31 years at the helm, Bucknell hired from within and named Heather the head coach before last season. While knowing the players on the team made the transition to head coach smooth, Heather and the Bison struggled to a 16-33 record in 2013.
Heather lost his first eight games as a head coach before beating Harvard for his first win. The Bison recovered and finished conference play with a 10-10 record to finish fourth out of six Patriot League teams.
“We got off to a slow start and played tough competition,” Heather said. “It took us a while to get our feet under us. We played a lot better in the Patriot League.”
This season was completely different for the Bison.
Bucknell went 30-19-1 overall and 15-5 in the Patriot League, winning the regular season and conference tournament championships. The turnaround earned Heather the Patriot League Coach of the Year award.
“We got off to a better start in out-of-conference play, then built moment in league play,” Heather said.
The conference championship also clinched a berth in the NCAA Regionals.
It seems like a tall task, but Heather and the Bison have been in this position before. Playing No. 4 national seed Florida State in the first game of the 2008 tournament, one of Heather’s pitchers, Mathew Wilson, tossed a complete game shutout in the opening game.
The Seminoles rebounded to average 18.5 runs per game in their next four games in the Regional and 10.7 runs per game in the Super Regionals.
Also playing in the Charlottesville Regional this weekend is Heather’s alma mater, Arkansas. The Razorbacks are not guaranteed to play the Bison, but just being in the same regional means Heather has heard from several former teammates and coaches.
If the two teams do play each other, he said he would enjoy the experience.
“It would be exciting for me and my family,” Heather said. “My wife is from Fort Smith, so she’s a big Razorback fan. But I would treat it like any other game.
“Hopefully it’ll be in the winner’s bracket.”