Early in his freshman season, EMU baseball player Zach Roberts (Stuarts Draft, Va./Riverheads) took over a key position and solidified his team.
Although injuries have since forced him to abandon that position on the field and at times even put his career in question, as a senior, Zach is still playing a key position and providing stability for his team. And in his final season, he is putting on a final stamp, leading the Royals back to the ODAC Tournament for just the second time since 2002.
“It’s awesome,” Zach explained. “To be able make the tournament with this group of guys is a memory I will never forget. We still want to keep playing though so we want to be playing our best baseball this weekend as well.”
The Royals head to top-seeded Randolph-Macon for a best-of-three series that starts on Friday. The two teams split their two games in Harrisonburg during the season. Splitting a Saturday doubleheader was common for EMU this spring, as they turned the trick each of the last five weekends of ODAC play, helping them to a 5-3 record against the league’s top four teams.
Earning the split last Saturday at Virginia Wesleyan was also crucial in the regular season finale at Virginia Wesleyan.
EMU went into the series in eighth place in the ODAC standings, holding with a one-game lead over three other ODAC teams for the final tournament berth. But they lost the first game, 19-8.
“We had to forget about the first game quickly,” Zach explained, “to know that if we win game two we give ourselves a better chance at making the tournament. So the goal was to focus on what we can control and enjoy the moment.”
Enjoy they did, started by Zach’s one-out single in the top of the first. He stole second base and quickly scored the game’s first run on an single from the next batter. That triggered the momentum, as the Royals earned a 6-0 lead after four innings and never trailed in a 12-2 win.
The win also clinched their spot in the ODAC Tournament.
Zach finished with one hit and two walks for the third straight game, and takes a seven-game hitting streak into the postseason.
But injuries over his career cast a serious doubt over the possibility of this ODAC Tournament storybook ending.
Last year, Zach was shut down in early March after EMU’s first ODAC games. In order to play his final season, he had to learn a new position, moving from shortstop to first base in order to minimize how often he had to throw. Historically a switch hitter, he also changed to batting exclusively from the left side of the plate.
“Honestly, it has been tough,” Zach said of his health. “Not knowing how I feel each day has been hard but I think it has made me stronger going through it. And the coaching staff has still given me the chance to play so I can’t thank them enough for still giving me an opportunity to contribute this year.”
After anchoring EMU’s left side of the infield for two-and-a-half seasons, Zach is now on the receiving end of his team’s defense.
And he is doing it well.
Zach is eighth in the ODAC with 234 putouts and hasn’t made an error since March, a string of 11 games. His .984 fielding percentage puts him in the upper half of ODAC first basemen.
“I just want to help the team as much as possible,” he said. “It’s been a new but cool experience to be able to play first base and it has been a bigger adjustment than I thought it would.”
And as with many collegiate student-athlete who suffer significant injuries, Zach’s personal growth through the experience has shaped his career goals.
“My plans are to become a graduate assistant coach,” he explained. “I want to stay around the game. It has done a lot of good for me so I want to be able to help the other guys out. With the things I have been taught I want to be able to translate that to other players. Getting my masters will be important as well.”