East/North Xtra: Central Catholic grad shines at Rock

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Since his freshman year at Central Catholic High School, Will Kengor has been dealt motivational triggers that have driven him to excel on the baseball field.

Major League Baseball was kind enough to deliver one final high-and-inside pitch to this O'Hara Township resident last year that fueled his final season at Slippery Rock University.

As a junior last year, Kengor, a lanky 6-foot-5 shortstop who bats left and throws right-handed, batted .448 (77 for 172) to rank second in NCAA Division II. His 77 hits were seventh most in a season in SRU baseball history and he ended up with 102 totals bases and 28 RBIs despite batting leadoff for the first time in his career.

All that earned him first-team All-PSAC, all-region and All-America on just about every Division II baseball team under the sun.

It wasn't good enough for MLB, however, as Kengor surprisingly went undrafted in the first-year player draft in June.

"My expectations weren't too high," he said of the draft. "The fact that I was even getting mentioned last year was awesome. I started to hear 'You're definitely going to go, you're definitely going to go.' I got a little excited about it but it came and went.

"I was down in Rockville playing summer ball [during the draft]. For a couple weeks after I was a little bummed but the guys down there were great. They kept me busy, kept me working."

And it provided Kengor with even more motivation to produce big numbers in his final season at The Rock.

"Absolutely," he said. "It seems like each year something kind of, not necessarily goes wrong, but doesn't go the way I had planned. In high school I didn't make the freshman team so I used that and made varsity as a sophomore. I committed to Duquesne out of high school and that didn't work out.

"I ended up going to a Division II school, so I used that. Freshman year I didn't play as much as I wanted, so I used that. Last year I wanted to go to a big summer league so I wanted to go to Alaska and that fell through because they ended up releasing me before I got there. That was even more motivation.

"Then not being picked up was just another little push."

That "push" provided enough motivation for Kengor to nearly top an almost unbeatable junior season.

He ended up leading Slippery Rock in nearly every offensive category: batting average (.415), runs (47), hits (73), doubles (12), triples (4), RBIs (30), total bases (99) and stolen bases (17 for 18). Among the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference leaders he ranked first in total hits and runs scored, second in triples, third in batting average and fourth in slugging percentage (.563).

For his efforts, Kengor was recognized as the PSAC West athlete of the year and last Thursday was named Capital One Academic Division II All-District 2 for his 3.45 grade point average as a journalism major.

"I think he had an outstanding senior season," SRU coach Jeff Messer said. "I think he's better this year than he was last year all the way around ... defensively, offensively.

"Pitchers are a lot more cautious with him. He's been patient enough to put up the numbers that he has with pitchers trying to pitch around him.

"He's the premier player in our conference, East and West. I think he's the best player in the conference and the best player in the region."

Kengor also ranks among the best to come out of Slippery Rock, Messer said, and that includes a list of some pretty impressive individuals.

Matt Adams is a SRU alumnus who was drafted in 2009 by St. Louis in the 23rd round, 699th overall, and is the Cardinals starting first baseman. Right-handed pitcher Lou Trivino was taken in the 11th round with the 341st pick last year by the Oakland Athletics and is currently pitching for Beloit (Wis.) in the Class A Midwest League.

The class of 2000 had four Rock players drafted, three by the Minnesota Twins -- catcher Dan DeCola (16th round), pitcher Tom Sullivan (29th round) and third baseman Greg Stokes (35th round), while pitcher Craig Petulla was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 25th round.

"He's as good an athlete as anyone we've ever had," Messer said. "The best all-around player we've had as far as power and average is Adams. He's probably the top one or two guys that we've had. Will is definitely up there in the top five offensively. He's not a power hitter like some of the guys we've had but he's a better hitter than a lot of the guys who were drafted.

"There's not too many college players who can go to the opposite field and then still be able to turn on the ball like he has. I honestly think when he gets to the next level he'll be able to hit for more power if that's what they want him to do. For us we're looking for him to be the catalyst for our team and get on base."

Kengor's collegiate career came to an end last Thursday when Slippery Rock (25-20) lost in the first round of the PSAC tournament to No. 23-ranked Millersville.

The Rock, seeded fourth in the tournament out of the West, took East Division champion and top seed Millersville to extra innings before falling to the Marauders, 3-2, in the 11th at Kelly Automotive Park in Butler in a tournament that was reduced to single elimination due to the inclement weather.

Kengor went 2 for 5 in the game and scored one of The Rock's two runs.

Now it's time for Messer to face the reality of replacing Kengor. Whether he goes in the June 5-7 draft or not, Kengor will leave Slippery Rock as one of the most decorated players in program history.

"If Will wasn't in our lineup, we wouldn't have been in the playoffs, it's as simple as that," Messer said. "We probably have the best recruiting class we've ever had coming in but we still haven't been able to find a shortstop to replace him. He's that good.

"He's a major Division I shortstop that we were fortunate enough to get. He's going to be a very, very hard player to replace."

Rick Davis: rdavis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3789.

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