JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Senior third baseman Brandon Roberts has started 176 games and every South Atlantic Conference contest, 106, at third base during his four years at Carson-Newman. The last time he was not listed on the lineup card was March 5, 2014, 113 games ago.
The Davie, Fla. native has been a key player for Carson-Newman coach Tom Griffin but his 2016 campaign is turning into one of the best in the history of the program.
With a .410 batting average during his senior season, Roberts is challenging the school record in the Division II era, since 1994, set by Shap Stiles of .414 in 1999.
"It's being confident and being locked in from the start," Roberts said. "I'm not taking at-bats for granted. They are precious and you have to be locked in for each one. Being a senior and going in with that confidence and being able to start off hot in February and I have not looked back. To be able to stay consistent throughout the season has been big. Being on time and not swinging at bad pitches has been crucial for me and putting the barrel on the ball and making solid contact while trusting everything that I have worked on pretty much my whole life."
The numbers for the third baseman read a .410 batting average with 10 home runs, 48 runs batted in, 46 runs scored and nine stolen bases as he ranks in the top-10 in the league in 10 separate offensive categories. It has been the most consistent season for a player that hit below .265 during his freshman and sophomore seasons and began his junior year with just eight hits in 41 at-bats during the month of February.
Roberts has never been an all-conference selection or a gold glove winner. The only time he has been recognized for his performance on the field outside of the Silver Diamond Baseball Complex came on March 1 when the third baseman was named the league's and the Tennessee Sportswriters' Association Player of the Week while he tallied seven hits, three home runs, six RBIs and 10 runs scored with a trio of multi-hit outings in a four-game sweep of McKendree.
When the season wraps up, Roberts is likely to have a laundry list of honors to add to his baseball resume which is a testament to the time and effort he has put in over the years to improve. It's an adage he is readily willing to share with younger teammates.
"I would have loved to have been doing this for four years," Roberts said. "At the same time, I can tell the younger guys to not dwell on what you're doing this year. I spoke with [redshirt-freshman] Brendan Campbell saying that you are going to go through some struggles but you have to be strong mentally. If you keep putting the time in and you trust what you are doing, you can turn things around if you put the work in in the summer. I tend to think that the results that you get during the season have a direct relationship to the work you put in during the fall and summer. If you believe in yourself and the people around you, you can do good things."
With Roberts leading the offense, Carson-Newman has recorded 26 wins, the most since winning 28 in 2012 and if the Eagle can get to 30 wins, it would be the fifth 30-win campaign under Griffin. With one win at Tusculum this weekend, the Eagles would seal a .500 or better record for the first time since 2011.
There are copious amounts of scenarios for seeding to be sorted out during the final weekend of the SAC regular season but Roberts is not focused on the tiebreaker system, rather he is looking to see what the team can accomplish in four games this week.
"As coach Griff would say, our key to do nothing different than we do every day," Roberts said. "Keep trusting our process and that time and work that we put in daily. The key is to keep pitching it well and I think our hitting is going to come through. Overall this year, I think our hitting with two outs and runners in scoring position. Once you get into that tournament anything can happen."
The occupier of the hot corner realizes his baseball career is in the twilight stages and has begun to reflect on his four years on the Jefferson City campus. The final chapter has not been written yet but he knows how he wants the community to remember his senior class.
"I want the mark to be that we are overall hard-working and just good baseball players and good individuals that our coaches, teammates and professors will say 'Carson-Newman was lucky to have those guys come here'," Roberts said. "I hope that our teammates look back and then when I did this or when [Vince Apicella] did that. It would be cool if two or three years from now people were still talking about that."
The three-time state champion at Archbishop McCarthy High in Florida is looking for more magical moments and hopes that his younger teammates will reminisce after Roberts hangs up his cleats.
"Teammates come up to you and tell you how much they appreciate playing with you," Roberts said. "I have some emotions being very happy that I got to play here for four years. I've been trying to look back on all of the good times I've had here and reflect on some of the good times.
"I think about all of the guys that I've played with and all of the good times that we have shared together. Playing for coach Griff and not having many more games to play for him."
Four guaranteed games to be exact with a likely spot waiting for Carson-Newman in the SAC Baseball Championships. With Roberts racking up hits, the most memorable saga his baseball story is looming at Smokies Stadium next weekend with an accolade bigger than a school record or a league plaudit.
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