Rick O'Brien: He's tearing the cover off the ball

Hatboro-Horsham's lefthanded ace, Matt Hollenbeck, is also a huge threat with a bat in his hands. In Tuesday's 12-0 rout of Souderton, he delivered the first grand slam of his high school career.
Hatboro-Horsham's lefthanded ace, Matt Hollenbeck, is also a huge threat with a bat in his hands. In Tuesday's 12-0 rout of Souderton, he delivered the first grand slam of his high school career.

Hatboro-Horsham pitcher Matt Hollenbeck is sizzling at the plate.

Posted: May 05, 2011

Should he need time to develop as a college pitcher, Matt Hollenbeck, Hatboro-Horsham's lefthanded ace, expects to get a chance to crack Georgetown's everyday lineup as a hitter. Based on his numbers, the Hoyas would be crazy not to give him a serious look.

Hollenbeck, a senior who doubles as a first baseman, is batting a team-high .500 (15 for 30) with 16 RBIs, 12 runs, a 1.033 slugging percentage, a .625 on-base percentage, and a 1.658 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.

"As a hitter, he's as locked in as any high school player that I've seen in my 10 years as a head coach," H-H boss Pete Moore said. "His swing is a controlled, violent explosion."

In Tuesday's 12-0, five-inning romp over Suburban One League Continental Conference rival Souderton, the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder delivered the first grand slam of his high school career.

"It was a 3-0 count," Hollenbeck said. "Coach Moore told me to swing away if I liked the pitch. It was a fastball, a little down and away, and I was able to extend my hands and rip it."

It was Hollenbeck's second home run of the season. The lefty hitter, who bats third or fourth in the order, has eight walks, six doubles, and two triples.

"I'm seeing the ball a lot better this year," the 18-year-old said. "I'm sitting back and driving the ball. Last year, I would get out in front, lose my power and weight, and hit weak pop-ups and ground balls."

On the mound, Hollenbeck is 1-1 with a 4.03 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 241/3 innings. He mixes a fastball clocked in the 85- to 87-m.p.h. range, a curveball, and a change-up.

"His stuff is explosive," Moore said. "I love the way that he battles on the mound and has learned to pitch rather than relying solely on his velocity."

Hollenbeck quarterbacked Hatboro-Horsham's football team for three seasons. Last fall, he earned first-team all-Continental Conference honors as a punter.

In baseball, the Horsham resident chose Georgetown over Villanova and Marist, among others.

"It's the Big East, which is a terrific conference, and the team has become more and more competitive in recent years," he said.

With a 4.0 grade-point average (6.2 on a weighted scale), Hollenbeck was ranked fourth in a class of about 460 at the end of the first semester. He takes advanced placement classes in calculus and economics.

A tribute to Conor. Few teenagers rivaled Conor McKenna's love for baseball. A lefthander with an ever-improving curveball, he was working hard to become Spring-Ford's next ace.

Sadly, McKenna's life was cut short by a malignant, intrusive cancer. A 15-year-old sophomore at the Royersford school, he lost his 20-month battle with angiosarcoma two months ago.

"He played baseball 12 months of the year," said his father, Tim. "When the weather was bad in the winter months, he was indoors working out."

Before Friday's 7 p.m. matchup vs. Owen J. Roberts at Ram Stadium, family, friends, and former teammates will celebrate Conor McKenna's life in a pregame ceremony.

McKenna pitched and played the outfield for the Spring City American Legion team. Though he was diagnosed with cancer in July 2009, he suited up and practiced last year with Spring-Ford's freshman squad.

This year, he had hoped to receive medical clearance to play varsity ball. But in January, Tim McKenna said, Conor's regular three-month CAT scan "showed the cancer had spread to his lungs and liver."

Before his death, Conor McKenna, whose jersey number was 35, received an autographed jersey from Cole Hamels and an encouraging text message from ex-Phillie Jamie Moyer.

Spring-Ford coach Bruce Brobst remembers tutoring McKenna at his annual baseball camp.

"I was looking forward to him coming through the ranks and working with him at the varsity level," Brobst said.

Extra bases. Frankford's offensive leaders are Augusto Ortego (.458, 18 runs), Kevin Montero (.452, eight doubles), and Omar Cruz (.357, 20 RBIs). . . . Christopher Dock's Drew Mininger is hitting .444 with 14 RBIs. . . . West Chester Henderson's Chas McCormick and Zach Norton are each batting .390. . . . Matt Primavera, a junior first baseman for Chestnut Hill Academy, is hitting .433 with five doubles. . . . Rory Clemens (.563), Stefan Swaintek (.526), and John Welch (.486) are Lansdale Catholic's catalysts. . . . Central's Mike Cavallaro is batting .452 with a .528 on-base percentage. . . . Neumann-Goretti junior lefthander Joey Gorman is 5-0 with 44 strikeouts in 29 innings.


Rick O'Brien: The Inquirer TOP 10

BASEBALL

Team Record

Records are through Tuesday.

Last week's rankings in parentheses.

1. Downingtown East (1) 13-1

2. Council Rock N. (2) 11-1

3. Neumann-Goretti (3) 11-0

4. West Chester East (4) 12-2

5. Chestnut Hill Ac. (5) 16-2

6. W.C. Henderson (8) 12-3

7. Council Rock S. (NR) 10-2

8. Marple Newtown (NR) 11-3

9. Archbishop Wood (7) 7-3

10. Spring-Ford (NR) 13-3

Under consideration (listed alphabetically): Boyertown (10-4), Conestoga (9-2), Devon Prep (12-1), Germantown Academy (10-5), Haverford School (13-4), Owen J. Roberts (11-3).

- Rick O'Brien


Contact staff writer Rick O'Brien at 610-313-8019

or robrien@phillynews.com.

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