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Like father, like son? Churchill baseball star outdoes dad, a former pro.

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When Chris Hacopian was 9, he was playing shortstop when a chopper headed toward the hole between him and the third baseman. He fielded the ball with his backhand, set his feet and threw a rocket to first base.

Right then, Derek Hacopian called his wife and said: “Oh god. He’s good.”

“I recognized it right there,” Chris’s father recalled.

Derek Hacopian would know. In 1992, he turned in one of the greatest single seasons in University of Maryland baseball history, becoming an all-American, being named ACC player of the year and breaking school records for RBI and home runs. He was drafted into the MLB by Cleveland and is still known as one of the best players out of Churchill High.

Chris, who starts at shortstop for the Bulldogs some 34 years after his father did, might be even better.

“I wasn’t even close to the shortstop he is,” Derek Hacopian said of his son. “In high school, I wasn’t even close to the player he is. He’s 10 times as good as I was in high school.”

Chris Hacopian is putting the finishing touches on a stellar junior season in which he hit .583 with 11 home runs — two shy of the state record — and set school records in RBI (38) and hits (35) through the regular season.

The top-seeded Bulldogs (16-1) have every intention of making a deep run in the Class 4A playoffs, which begin for them Saturday after a first-round bye. They have become one of the best teams in the area and carry realistic ambitions to capture the program’s first state title since 1979.

“This game is pretty much all I know,” Hacopian said. “Coming here, doing what I’m doing, it’s awesome to follow my dad’s footsteps here. I’m just trying to go as far as I can go personally in this game.”

This year, he has carried Churchill. On April 1, he bashed a walk-off home run in extra innings against Bethesda-Chevy Chase. Then, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and his team trailing Wheaton by three runs on April 26, he hit a walk-off grand slam to secure a 12-11 win.

While his bat is feared in the area and he has provided quality outings as a pitcher (32 strikeouts and a 1.82 ERA in 23 innings), his fielding might be his biggest strength.

To understand the pride Hacopian takes in his glove, watch him practice for a few minutes. He cleanly fields every ball hit to him before sending a perfect throw to first base. Then he’ll call over to one of his coaches “How could I have read that better?”

Churchill Coach Pat Skellchock and his staff are happy to provide pointers, but sometimes their perspective comes with a preface accompanied by a laugh: “You’re better than me.”

Derek Hacopian said he always stressed the importance of defense when teaching Chris and his older brother Eddie, who has committed to play for Maryland after two years at Cypress College (Calif.).

When the father noticed Chris had the innate ability to keep his head down on every ball hit his way from an early age, he knew the kid was a natural infielder.

Hacopian identified his interest in being a shortstop early on. He enjoys being a leader, and that position keeps him well within the action. He committed to Wake Forest as a freshman.

Much of Hacopian’s development is owed to his father’s experience in the sport. After Derek Hacopian retired from professional baseball, he wanted to remain involved and opened a 3,000 square-foot baseball academy in 1996. A year later the space doubled in size. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Baseball Zone, located in Gaithersburg, became what it is today — a 21,000 square-foot facility Chris and his teammates frequently visit.

“We have a great culture around there,” Chris said. “Multiple players on this team … we all work out there.”

Hacopian has fun with his friends at practice, sneaking toward teammates while they’re focused on a fly ball or hyping up someone after they make a good play. He turns serious when the moment calls for it, as evidenced by his late-game heroics.

After reaching the state quarterfinals last year, the Bulldogs won their first 16 games of 2022 before dropping their regular season finale Monday against Blair. Hacopian hit his 11th home run of the season in the 8-4 loss.

As Churchill enters the next stage of its breakout season, Hacopian will be expected to produce in all facets. The Bulldogs are confident they can count on him.

“He’s never shown that inner pressure,” senior catcher and fellow captain Erik Rindner said. “Hacopian’s a big name, but he’s lived up to the expectations and even exceeded them.”

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