BY JAMES SMITH
As the Saint Peter’s College Peacocks step onto Joeseph J. Jaroshack field this Saturday, one man will walk to the center of the diamond to the tune of “Kick it in The Sticks” by Brantley Gilbert, and will be in the spotlight from the first warm up pitch until the time he walks back into the dugout.
His mind does not waver, his focus does not change, and his mental approach will remain the same no matter the hitter. At the age of 20, he might seem a little young to shoulder the burden of all the pressure that comes with pitching for a Division I program, but Zach Hopf, a sophomore-starting pitcher and the ace of the staff, has been waiting for that moment all week.
“In high school, I was known as the kid who threw hard, and I could throw it by everyone,” said Hopf. “Here, I’m just another average Joe, so I really have to focus and locate every pitch.”
Hopf has been a pitcher his whole baseball career, from Little League through college. Although he does not play third base or hit when he is not pitching anymore, he still brings the same intensity to the field every day.
“Zach has a great work ethic,” said Derek England, head coach of the Peacocks, “He shows up every day looking to get better at something, and he is always looking to push himself to the next level.”
Hopf’s hard work has paid off so far, starting six games this season, averaging just less than six innings per start with a 3.31 earned run average. He credits a lot of his success this year to the addition of new pitching coach Sean Cashman.
“Coach Cashman has put a real emphasis on focusing and the mental game that pitching is,” said Hopf. “I’ve been throwing a lot more strikes this year, a lot more of my breaking pitches are for strikes, and he’s an all-around great guy. He really cares about us all as a whole.”
Coach Cashman has instilled a lot of new methods to the Peacocks’ pitching staff by helping them improve the mechanics of each pitcher, helping them all to focus more from pitch to pitch, and giving a new swagger to the pitchers that has resulted in a lot of success for the pitchers this year. The pitching staff as a whole has a 4.42 earned run average, with an opponent batting average of only .277.
“What I have tried to do as a coach is build our pitchers from the ground up,” said Coach Cashman, “I helped to tweak mechanics, improve their conditioning regiments, and show the pitchers that the mental game is as important, if not more important than the physical game in pitching. Hopf and all of the pitchers have adjusted well, and the results prove it.”
Hopf proved that his improvements paid off against Savannah State University on March 10, where he threw a complete game shutout while only allowing three hits the entire game. His performance earned him the title of MAAC Pitcher of the Week for that week.
“To win MAAC Pitcher of the Week was a great honor,” said Hopf. “ I had a great game, and for the conference to recognize me was very humbling and it motivated me to work even harder for my next start.”
Even though he enjoys the accolades, he knows his objectives have not been fulfilled yet, and he continues to work and improve until he gets to where he wants to be.
“My goal for this season is to win the MAAC championship, and I will do anything I can to help my team win,” Hopf said. “The icing on the cake would be to win MAAC Pitcher of the Year, but baseball’s a team sport, and an individual award is pretty hollow if the team does not win the title.”
Come see Zach Hopf and the SPC Peacocks this weekend as they take on the Fairfield University Stags Saturday at noon.