McGrath caps Franklin Regional baseball career with strong season
Danny McGrath surprised everyone — including himself.
When he dove for a line drive off the bat of Plum's Maleski during the fifth inning of a May 3 game, he wasn't sure how close he would come to bringing it in.
Turns out, his full-body lunge in the hole between shortstop and third base was enough to allow him to catch the ball and prevent a base hit in an eventual 2-0 Panthers victory.
“I just try to make the play and not give up on it until it's behind me and maybe just even take a stab at it,” McGrath said. “I was just hoping there to dive and maybe knock it down, maybe keep him from getting extra bases on it. Then it turned out I made the catch.”
It was the type of play the senior made all season for the Panthers, whose season ended with a 6-3 loss to Bethel Park in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs on Monday.
In addition to being a defensive leader at shortstop, McGrath led the team with a .533 batting average and finished with 23 runs batted in — one behind team leader Brandon Nania. The RBI total nearly quadrupled his output from 2012, when he had six.
“He does things the right way,” Franklin Regional coach Bobby Saddler said. “Every single at-bat, he's looking to do things for the team. He goes out there (and) plays great defense, (and) he impacts the game on the basepaths. If he makes a mistake, he doesn't sit there and dwell on it.”
McGrath said his gaudy senior statistics were a result of a greater comfort level in his third season at the varsity level, along with hard work during the offseason. He batted .303 as a sophomore and .403 as a junior but wanted to continue to get better for his senior season.
“Last year, the second time through the section, teams started playing me a little more to the pull side, and I think that hurt my average toward the end of the year,” he said. “So I went in this winter and really tried to work on back side hitting, staying through the ball and hitting it to right field. I think that really helped out a lot.”
McGrath's desire for improvement kicked in again during this season, when he said he wanted to improve his defense after an 8-1 loss to Plum on April 18. Plum took advantage of several Franklin Regional miscues on bunts in that game.
In the rematch, the Panthers turned the tables on the Mustangs, forcing Plum to make five outs on the basepaths. McGrath caught Plum's Austin O'Block in a rundown to end the game.
“We knew our bats would always be around,” he said. “We thought if we really focused on our defense, we had a chance to beat anybody.”
As the leadoff hitter, McGrath sparked a Panthers offense that finished the season averaging more than nine runs per game. He struck out once this season in 88 at-bats and scored 30 runs.
“As long as I can remember, I've been the leadoff hitter for our tournament teams and coming up through varsity,” he said. “I like it because the pitcher doesn't know what I'm going to do the first at-bat of the game. He's going to try to get ahead and get an out, so he'll probably bring some good pitches. Hopefully, one of those good pitches I can hit on and hopefully drive it or get on base somehow.”
While Monday's loss ended McGrath's Franklin Regional career, he will go on to play collegiately at California (Pa.).
After seeing him up-close for the past few years, Saddler believes McGrath has what it takes to succeed at the next level.
“Danny knows the game of baseball,” he said. “He seems to be in the right place at the right time, and that's not by accident.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.