As a sophomore Jason Hastings earned a spot as one of the two conference starters for the Bryant Hornets, teamed up with Nate Rutherford, the Class 7A State Tournament Most Valuable Player the year before in 2012. And, for a team that went 27-6, he went 7-2 with a miniscule earned run average of 0.93. He fanned 46 in 52 2/3 innings and allowed just 38 hits and 15 walks.
So, as a junior in 2013, it figured that Hastings would pick up right where he left off. But with the development of several other young pitchers — most of whom, like Hastings, will be back with the Hornets this spring — head coach Kirk Bock put him in a new role. The lefty became the get-us-the-heck-out-of-this-mess reliever.
And he was splendid again, finishing 3-1 with an 0.88 ERA and two saves for a team that went 33-2, won a conference championship and a State championship and wound up ranked No. 10 in the country.
The thing is, that’s not the only way Hastings contributed. His bat made him an everyday player at first base (more as a sophomore) and in right field. In 2013, he hit .377 with 17 runs batted in. As a junior, he stepped it up to a .408 average (31 of 76) — one of three starters that hit over .400 for the season — and drove in 22.
That kind of two-way production caught the attention of some college coaches and, on Tuesday, he signed a letter of intent to continue his education and baseball career at Arkansas Tech University.
Jason, the son of Jim and Cindy Hastings, joined friend, teammate and battery mate Trey Breeding in signing with Tech on Tuesday. The duo will become a part of a Wonder Boys team that now includes, not only Rutherford, but Marcus Wilson, Korey Thompson and Harrison Dale, all former Hornets.
“I liked the campus there when I visited,” Hastings said. “The (other) school that I got an offer from (UAM) didn’t have my degree and Arkansas Tech did so I decided to go to Arkansas Tech.”
He wants to study Engineering.
“Some of my friends are up there that played on the team last year and the year before so it just felt like high school again playing with them again,” he acknowledged.
Bryant head coach Kirk Bock said he felt like Hastings would be able to help Tech as a pitcher and a hitter.
“Jason’s going to be able to play either first base or the outfield because he’s going to be able to swing it,” Bock related. “Then, also on the mound, I think at that level he’s going to throw. They’ll probably start him out being a set-up guy then eventually he’ll work into a long-relief type of role.
“I don’t know what their plans are for sure but he’s very, very effective bringing him in after somebody that throws extremely hard,” the coach explained. “That’s how we’ll use him again this year. I think any program would use him that way.
“What makes him so good is he can change speeds with command and a lot of people can’t,” he added.
And that’s what head coach Dave Dawson and assistant Derrick Wynn indicated to Hastings.
“They want me to be a pitcher out of the pen,” he said.
Asked about his different role last spring, Hastings replied, “I know my job is as an outfielder and a pitcher so, if I’m not pitching, they need me in the outfield.
“Just working out every morning, my skills have gotten better and better,” he said. “And I’ve gotten in the weight room and gotten stronger.”
As a freshman, Hastings was part of the 2012 team that captured a State title.
“My freshman year, I was involved but I didn’t play in (the championship game),” he recalled. “I was more like a cheerleader in the dugout. Last year, it was unbelievable getting the opportunity to be there again. It was incredible.
“The moment I remember most was the last pitch. When that dude crushed it I went, ‘Oh, God . . .’ then when (centerfielder Chase) Tucker ran it down I was thinking, ‘Finally, all this hard work and it paid off.’”
And it continues to do so.