New bat standards produced a power outage in college baseball across the nation this season. But there’s one light still shining bright in Statesboro, Ga.
Georgia Southern sophomore right fielder Victor Roache lit up scoreboards with a power stroke that couldn’t be matched by many teams, much less players.
Roache enters his team’s NCAA regional game Friday against South Carolina as the national leader in home runs with 30 — eight ahead of his closest competitors — and RBIs with 83.
“He has tremendous raw power,” The Citadel coach Fred Jordan said. “He will make any ballpark look small.”
Jordan would know better than anyone after watching Roache tear through his pitching staff the first three days of April. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound slugger collected nine hits in 14 at-bats with five homers and 12 RBIs to lead the Eagles to a sweep.
Roache hit .327 with a slugging percentage of .789 and an on-base percentage of .440 to win Southern Conference player-of-the-year honors while breaking school and conference records for home runs in a season. He hit more home runs than six of the teams in the 11-team Southern Conference, and he out-homered the rest of his teammates 30-24.
“You always want a guy who has a presence about him in the middle of the lineup, and this year he has developed into that guy for us,” Georgia Southern coach Rodney Hennon said.
Roache, a Ypsilanti, Mich., native who was picked by the Detroit Tigers in the 25th round of the 2009 draft, wanted to play his college baseball in the South. But the transition wasn’t easy. He struggled with pitch recognition and plate discipline as a freshman, when he batted .252 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs.
“That’s not unusual for a lot of guys coming out of high school,” Hennon said. “But in the second half, he really started to get some confidence and make some adjustments as a hitter.”
By the end of the season, however, Roache was battling shin splints, which curtailed his summer-ball activity. Then he broke an ankle at the start of fall drills, which left Hennon wondering how much Roache would develop his sophomore season.
But it didn’t take long for Roache to show he had learned a lot in 151 freshman at-bats. He began to work his way into hitter’s counts more frequently and take advantage of pitchers’ mistakes.
Roache is strong enough that he doesn’t have to get all of a pitch to hit it out, and he has good power to all fields.
“When we recruited him, we felt like he had a chance to be a great hitter and a special player,” Hennon said. “I don’t know that we saw him making as big of a jump as he has this year.”
The best part for Hennon, though, has to be the way Roache has handled his success. The coach throws out one adjective after another in describing his power-hitting prodigy: humble, hard-working, focused.
“He’s probably as well-liked as anybody in our clubhouse. Anytime you get a guy like that and see him have some success, you’re really happy for him,” Hennon said. “Sometimes you see guys have success like that and it affects them. He’s the same guy now as he was a year ago, which says a lot about him as a person. He’s a team guy first and foremost. It’s (his home-run total) really been a bigger deal to our team than it has him.”
Jordan regrets pitching to Roache in the seventh inning of the third game of their series, when the Eagles overcame a four-run deficit with a rally jump-started by a two-run homer by Roache. Jordan isn’t expecting any scouting calls from USC coaching staff.
“Ray Tanner will not ask me how to pitch him after seeing what he did to us,” Jordan said.
Plenty of coaches could say the same thing.