By Anthony Spaulding, New Jersey Herald
When he arrived on Pace University’s campus for his freshman year in 2006, Mackenzie King received some insight from head coach Henry Manning as to how his baseball career would unfold.
“Coach told me it was gonna be a roller coaster of a ride,” the former North Warren star recalled. “There’s gonna be a lot of ups and a lot of downs. But you want to finish on top.”
Four years later, the redshirt senior pitcher has climbed his way to the top of Pace’s rotation, putting together a 3-2 record with a 3.00 ERA and 54 strikeouts. In addition, the right-hander also has tossed two complete-game shutouts and become the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts with 205.
“I feel good,” King said of his season. “I want to make sure I get better.”
King didn’t look like he needed to improve when he stepped on the mound as a freshman, posting a 5-2 mark with a 1.43 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 32 innings as a reliever. His wins and strikeouts represented records for a Pace freshman, and his ERA was second best among freshmen all-time.
In his sophomore season, King made 22 appearances (two as a starter) while going 3-3 with a 1.88 ERA and fanning 80 in 52 innings. His strikeouts ranked fifth in the Northeast-10 Conference and he also earned a spot on the all-conference second team.
“My first two years were a big up,” King said.
But all of a sudden, he experienced a huge downer.
While playing in the Coastal Plains League in Virginia during the summer of 2008, King heard a “click” in his throwing shoulder after throwing a changeup. The day after his pitching appearance, he couldn’t pick up a ball due to the pain.
“It kind of swelled up on me,” King said.
King later learned it was a partial tear in his labrum that required arthroscopic surgery on it. He attributed the injury to too much throwing.
“I threw 52 innings in my sophomore year and I was getting an inning or two pretty much every game,” King said. “It was just wear and tear on my shoulder.”
King rehabilitated the shoulder for a full year, forcing him to redshirt status to keep his four years of eligibility intact. King said the hardest part about the healing process was the mental aspect.
“It was a huge battle,” King said. “You feel like it is all right, but then it might hurt and you are not sure if you should throw. You just keep hoping the next day it feels better.”
King thought he got better when it came time for his junior season, saying how he got his speed back on most of his pitches. He believed in his ability so much that he switched from a full-time reliever to a starter.
However, his results spoke otherwise.
King appeared in only nine games, starting six, to finish the year at 1-6 with a 8.60 ERA while totaling 301⁄3 innings. He also collected only 28 strikeouts while allowing 29 earned runs on 45 hits.
“I’m not sure if I was 100 percent mentally ready,” King recalled. “It showed during the games. I didn’t feel like I could throw inside on anybody and I got hit around. I wasn’t used to that at all.”
Manning said it was tough to watch King pitch at less than 100 percent.
“If you look at the numbers, they weren’t MacKenzie King-like,” Manning said. “It wasn’t what we saw the first two years.”
Manning and pitching coach Grisha Davida suggested to King in the offseason to change his delivery from mostly an “all-arm” approach to a more balanced one using his entire body. However, the biggest adjustment Manning said was to have him space out his stamina.
“He was running out of gas,” Manning said. “Coming from a reliever (to a starter), he went hard for one inning. I think the pitching coach and I helped him realize to not waste your bullets the first time you’re out there.”
King hasn’t wasted any pitches this year, especially during the week from April 3-10, when he fired his two complete-game shutouts against The College of St. Rose and Assumption College. King allowed six hits and struck out a career-high 15 in the Setters’ 9-0 win over St. Rose and followed it up with a 10-strikeout performance while giving up nine hits in a 1-0 blanking of Assumption.
The win over Assumption was special because it put King at 202 career strikeouts to surpass Dustin Corbett’s (2005-08) school record of 199. King said it was nice to break the mark, but he said he is focused on developing his post-graduate career.
“I want to play this summer and continue playing after school,” King said. “I’m gonna play wherever I can.”
If King wants to have a future in baseball when he leaves Pace, he will have to listen to another piece of advice from Manning.
“He just has to be diligent in doing it,” Manning said. “He’s got to pursue it.”
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