Following a senior season that was wiped away by the pandemic after just three appearances and two starts, Foxboro alum Justin Garcia returned for a fifth year at Roger Williams and turned that extra spring into a historic one.
In his most recent start, against Salve Regina, Garcia recorded the 186th strikeout of his career, breaking the old program record set by Josh Rosen in 2003. With 57 strikeouts this season (in just 33 innings), Garcia now has 189 and counting.
“I knew roughly around how many I needed but in the heat of the moment, during the game, I wasn’t really thinking all that much about it,” said Garcia about breaking the record. “I was just trying to do a job and get the win.”
He laughed when asked if his teammates were keeping track by hanging up Ks ior having a countdown in the dugout. “Some of my teammates were thinking about doing that,” he said, “but I just told them, don’t jinx it. I still have to pitch well in order to get there.”
Twice named to the Commonwealth Coast Conference Third Team (in 2018 and 2019), Garcia is having the best season of his career. Through six starts, he is 3-0 (increasing his career win total to 11) and has a career-best ERA of 2.73, which is almost half a point better than his previous low of 3.25 as a sophomore.
“It’s good to get recognition, but it’s also good to see I remained consistent throughout the four years at Roger Williams and it shows that hard work does eventually pay off if you stick with it,” Garcia explained.
Like most pitchers coming out of high school, Garcia said his coaches called him a “thrower, not necessarily a pitcher.” He relied on his fastball and admitted that there were a lot of growing pains that first season, as he finished with a 1-3 record in eight appearances (five starts). He made the adjustment quickly, as the next year he was 3-3 in eight starts and dropped his ERA almost five points from 8.20 to 3.25.
“Going from high school to college is such a big jump,” he said. “You’re just still trying to figure out how to get outs without getting shelled, especially when you’re facing a conference that’s been pretty strong the past four years. I’ve developed so much, grown so much over the course of four years.”
The learning continues, as Garcia said he has been working on a new pitch this season and continues to tinker to try and improve. “You’re always learning and you’re never at the top of your game and there’s always something new you can learn, more development that you can have,” he said. “There’s never a ceiling.”
Garcia is now trying to share that message with the younger pitchers on the team, showing them what it takes to be a success at the collegiate level. He said, “You’ve got to be confident. Confidence is 90 percent of pitching. If you’re not confident in yourself to perform well, then you’re not going to.”
With Roger Williams sitting at 11-5 in conference play, second place in Pod A behind Salve, which is 7-2-1 in the CCC, Garcia is looking ahead to this weekend and the conference tournament. After watching one season disappear, he is trying to make the most of this spring.
“We were down in South Carolina playing games and nothing was wrong and then the next week the whole season was cancelled,” Gracia reflected. “It goes to show that stuff can happen really fast and guys need to realize you only have four eligible seasons of playing college ball so they should really soak it all up and really enjoy the experience.”
In the fall and winter, concerns remained that this season might not happen. The rising number of cases in Rhode Island and on campus made it unclear whether or not spring sports could take place. So, there was obvious excitement when the team found out that this season would go ahead.
“I was relieved because all I wanted to do was play one last season,” he explained. “I was just so happy. I was really proud of the team that we were able to accomplish that, because it’s college and people want to hang out with friends and stuff and it’s really hard to isolate yourself.”
Now, as the spring is heading towards the end, the focus changes from happy to be playing to determined to bring home a trophy. Along with his fellow fifth-year players Joey Gulino and Danny Roth, Garcia wants to end the season on a high.
“The past couple years we’ve come up just short of a championship, so we wanted to make sure we had a good chance of getting a ring at the end of the year,” he said.
“It means so much for the older guys. We’ve all been here since freshman year, five years ago. It seems so long ago now, but we’re just happy that we’re able get the chance again and hopefully take [a championship] home this year and leave a good lasting impact on the program too.”
With a program record in hand, Justin Garcia is now hoping to add a CCC title to his Roger Williams legacy.