At .492, Hacopian drives Terp foes batty

May 08, 1992|By Lou Ferrara | Lou Ferrara,Contributing Writer

Derek Hacopian strides to the plate and nestles into his batting stance, his weight back and his body crouched.

Maryland is leading Virginia, 2-0, in the bottom of the second inning and has the bases loaded. On a 2-and-1 pitch, Hacopian raises his front foot, which triggers his quick but controlled swing. He hits a double to leftfield that adds three more RBIs to his stats.

But this is nothing new to Derek Hacopian. He's hot. Real hot.

The Potomac native is batting .492 and is the first player to eye the Atlantic Coast Conference Triple Crown since Clemson's Denny Walling led the league in batting average, home runs and RBIs in 1975.

On top of his ACC-leading average, the Terrapins rightfielder also leads the ACC with 80 RBIs and a Maryland-record 23 homers.

He gets an opportunity to improve his numbers this weekend in Greenville, S.C., when Maryland plays in the ACC tournament. The Terps (27-26-1) are the seventh seed, so only a championship could secure a bid in the NCAA tournament.

Hacopian, a 22-year-old criminal justice major, leads the ACC in 11 of 17 offensive categories, including hits at 93. The only thing he hasn't hit is a slump.

He is ranked 14th nationally in home runs and is second to Indiana's Mike Smith in average.

"I don't have a big swing, so I just try to hit the ball hard with a strong swing," says Hacopian, who at 6 feet and 200 pounds can bench press 375.

Since transferring from James Madison last fall, Hacopian has become the first Terp player to earn National Player of the Week honors in addition to being named ACC Player of the Week three times.

"We'd love to have him here right now," says James Madison coach Ray Heatwole. "I think he's as good a batter as anybody around."

Heatwole declined to say why Hacopian, who received All-Colonial Athletic Association honors while playing for the Dukes, transferred. Hacopian says he didn't fit in with the team.

"I really didn't get along too well with the coach at James Madison," Hacopian said. "From the time I got there, I think he got the wrong impression of me. I tend to have a sense of humor and goof off sometimes."

For example, the 1992 Maryland team photo catches Hacopian with his sleeves rolled up, his muscles flexed and an exaggerated grin on his face.

Perhaps another example is that he has moved around the country for most of the past five years, searching for a comfortable fit.

"I wasn't hitting consistently like this before," he says. "I didn't quite have the confidence or the patience. What I finally realized was that you have to have confidence in order to be patient."

After graduating from Winston Churchill High School in 1987, Hacopian went to Montgomery County Community College at Rockville, where he played shortstop, for two years.

"He's one of those kids where everything's a joke to him," said Montgomery coach George Schaffner. "But as far as baseball goes, he's a different person. He's focused and he concentrates when he's out on the field."

In the fall of 1989, Hacopian went to play for California State-Northridge. His focus wasn't on baseball.

"I took up surfing for a while and lived out that California lifestyle," he said. "But then I eventually realized that playing baseball was what I really wanted to do."

Hacopian put himself through a rigorous weight training program and became much stronger after he entered James Madison in the fall of 1990.

While alternating between first and third base at JMU, Hacopian led the Dukes with a .319 average, 11 home runs and 45 RBIs in 46 games.

"It's through all of his hard work that he's hitting like this," said Maryland coach Tom Bradley. "A guy like him comes along every 10 or 15 years when you're a coach."

Hacopian works out about four times a week, usually after a game, during the season and every day in the offseason.

"Since I started working out, my power has gone way up over the past two years," he said. "The bigger you are, you're going to hit the ball farther."

Said Bradley, "I haven't coached him at all. He's been so consistent, there's not a lot I can tell him to do."

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