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New Haven Register: McKenna Enjoying Surge in Power

New Haven Register: McKenna Enjoying Surge in Power

May 6, 2009

McKenna Enjoying Surge in Power

Courtesy New Haven Register
By Chip Malafronte, Register Staff

At 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds, Orange resident Pat McKenna casts an unimposing shadow each time he steps into the batter's box. As a leadoff hitter, he doesn't quite fit the mold typical of a home run hitter.

Appearances can be deceiving.

So far this season, McKenna, a senior shortstop at Bryant, has 12 - double his previous high

Pat McKenna ranks among the best to ever wear a Bryant uniform.

of six set as a junior. Among Division I programs in New England this spring, he trails only Tony Sanchez of Boston College (14) and George Springer of UConn (13).

Part of McKenna's power surge can be easily explained. Bryant, in the first of a three-year transition process from Division II, abandoned the wood bat-only Northeast-10 Conference and is using aluminum exclusively this season.

Of course, the competition is vastly improved. Bryant not only played mainly Division I competition, its independent status this year allowed coach Jamie Pinzino flexibility with the schedule. Opponents included several on track for the NCAA tournament, including Rhode Island, Boston College, Maine and Virginia Tech.

And then there's the matter of his size, which straddles the picket fence somewhere between smallish and average.

"He's definitely on the smaller side," Pinzino said. "That's one of the questions the pro scouts are always asking about. But he's strong; wiry strong. During all of our preseason strength testing, he always finishes near the top. He was the strongest position player as a junior and second this year. He's very strong for his size."

McKenna, hitting .325 with 41 RBIs to go with his dozen homers, also leads Bryant in runs scored, triples and walks. Earlier in the year, he had a 20-game hit streak, and had two-homer days against James Madison and Boston College, two of the better opponents.

"The metal bat makes a big difference," McKenna said Friday, a day before Bryant honored its six seniors. "It's a more powerful weapon in my hands. But there was a point this spring where I felt like I was in the zone and no one could get me out. I wasn't trying for home runs. They just came with good at-bats."

It was McKenna's defense at Amity High that first peaked Pinzino's interest. He saw a shortstop with quick hands and a strong arm, perfect to anchor an infield. At the time, he wasn't expecting much from McKenna at the plate.

"He was an OK hitter," Pinzino said. "But he wasn't quite there yet."

Despite meager offensive numbers as a freshman, McKenna was named one of the team captains after the year, mainly because of the hustle and work ethic he brought every day. He dove for balls and ran out every grounder or pop-up, whether it was a game situation or just practice.

"We had a scrimmage one day, and he hit a pop-up," Pinzino said. "But he busted out of the box and ran as hard as he could. It winds up falling in between two infielders, and he dove into second safe on the play. It was only practice, but he still played with that extra gear."

McKenna began to come around at the plate as a sophomore, hitting .314 with seven triples. He missed the NE-10 tournament with a stress fracture in his foot, but couldn't bear to miss the Northeast Regionals the following week. In pain, he wrapped the foot as securely as possible and played, helping Bryant to within one game of the College World Series.

In the fall of 2007, Bryant announced it would elevate to Division I in all sports, a process that began this year. The Bulldogs responded by winning 26 of their first 36 games this spring against a steady diet of Division I competition.

That included wins over Virginia Tech, Rhode Island, Northeastern, Harvard and Boston College and taking two of three from James Madison and Richmond.

"Going into the season, no one knew how good we could be," McKenna said. "During our spring trip to Delaware and Virginia, that was the turning point. We felt we could beat anyone."

Bryant, ineligible for the postseason because of NCAA rules on transitional teams, finishes the season next week. McKenna is hoping for an opportunity to play professionally after the June Major League Baseball draft.

"I think he can do it," Pinzino said. "Some scouts have come down to see him play, and he's opened a few eyes."

Read more from Chip Malafronte