The best part of Kenny Durling’s playoff weekend wasn’t the booming home run he blasted to help pave the way for one victory or the spectalar diving catches he made all over the outfield while contributing to others.
It was a simple single.
But as usual, it was exactly what his team needed most.
That base hit in the bottom of the eighth inning Sunday triggered a five-run rally that led Misericordia to a comeback victory in the championship game of the Freedom Conference Tournament.
“I like to have the pressure on me,” Durling said. “It’s something I’ve thrived on, something I’m good at.”
That type of clutch hitting is exactly what the Cougars have come to expect from Durling.
Over his marvelous four-year college career, the son of Ken and Michele Durling of Kingston set the school’s all-time hits record earlier this season, along with Misericordia marks for career and single-season RBI, career doubles, games played, total bases and at-bats.
Heading into next week’s NCAA Division III Regional Playoffs at PNC Field, the Cougars senior cleanup hitter is two home runs away from Nate Newman’s all-time school record of 32, and is two RBI shy of his own single-season record of 52 RBI set last season.
“We started him in the middle of the lineup as a freshman and he hasn’t moved since,” Misericordia coach Pete Egbert said. “He’s a guy we count on every day.”
Durling was always dependable, going back to his days as an outfielder for Wyoming Valley West.
He was one of the mainstays of a Spartans team that won two District 2 Class 4A titles and was a three-time conference champion. But nobody could have predicted he’d become the face of Misericordia baseball.
“It’s funny,” Egbert was saying, “the longer you do this, the less you know. The projections inevitably become a waste of time. We knew we were getting a good player. But his work ethic, his desire to improve, his leadership skills, he’s done a tremendous job with those things.
“He’s certainly been one of the best ballplayers I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching.”
He’s been confident he could hit going as far back as he can remember, as his 231 career hits for the Cougars and career .371 batting average can attest. And the career .977 fielding percentage he carries as a center fielder makes Durling one of Misericordia’s all-time greats with the glove.
“As good as he’s been offensively,” Egbert said, “he’s been as good, if not better, defensively. He’s made some amazing catches, three or four diving catches in the (Freedom) playoff series itself.”
But the power that’s produced 30 homers and 63 doubles during his college career suprised even Durling.
“A lot of the pitchers help supply that power,” laughed Durling, a sport management major who will graduate in December. “I just try to keep my hands inside the ball and try to hit it. If it goes out, it goes out.”
When the going gets tough, it seems Durling finds a way to get his team going.
He was 0-for-3 Sunday with his team trailing by a run when Durling stepped to the plate following a leadoff walk in the bottom of the eighth. He promptly drilled a single, and later came around to score what proved to be the winning run when a DeSales outfielder misplayed a base hit.
“Kenny can go 0-for-3 and disregard his first three at-bats,” Egbert said. “In any sport, that’s what differentiates the good ones from the great ones. The great ones relish those situations, want to be in those situations and perform in those situations.”
The situation in front of Durling right now is one he’s been longing for.
He’s been a mainstay for Misericordia’s three consecutive Freedom Conference titles, but the past two seasons ended for the Cougars in the regional playoff round. This one will be Durling’s last, and it’s being played at PNC Field.
Which will provide him at least one more chance to come through in the clutch.
“I expect us to go in there with a fire,” Durling said. “There are a lot of seniors on this team. I feel like we want to go farther than we have.
“I expect us to want this more than anything.”