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Baseball: Pinecrest's Patota keeps up tradition of Paladins sluggers
Pinecrest Academy's Will Patota connects with a pitch against North Forsyth on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. - photo by Brian Paglia

It was around the time that he hit his sixth home run, Will Patota thinks, that opposing pitchers decided they’d had enough of him. Since then, the Pinecrest Academy senior infielder has seen more junk than a family of raccoons.

“Over the last 10 games, I’ve seen probably, combined, four fastballs,” Patota said. “So I think pitchers are definitely scared to face me.”

The numbers alone are enough to do it. A year after Ryan McCarthy put together an otherworldly offensive season for the Paladins, which gained him significant attention from pro scouts, Patota is doing the same, and has even surpassed McCarthy in some categories.

Through 22 games, Patota is hitting .431 with a .930 slugging percentage. He has eight home runs, which has surpassed McCarthy’s mark from 2017 and broken a school record, and he’s shown solid plate discipline, with nine walks and 12 strikeouts.

“We weren't really expecting him to have the power that he has had,” Paladins head coach Ryan Weingart said.

Patota was plenty productive as a junior, hitting .400 with eight doubles, a triple and five home runs, but he knew that there was intensive work to be done with his swing. Over the summer, he worked with Pinecrest hitting coach Ariel Polanco to turn what Patota said was “like a golf swing,” one that often ended with Patota falling forward, into a more mechanically sound product, with Patota staying deep on his back leg.

It wasn’t geared specifically to home runs and fly balls, either, bucking a recent trend in hitting instruction.

“I’m a pretty big guy,” Patota said. “So I’ve just got to make some good contact with it, and I’ll send the ball over the fence.”

Patota has the size – he’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds – and the defensive ability to play at a high level in college, but the attention from those coaches wasn’t quick to arrive. Weingart hypothesized that a shoulder issue that kept Patota out of the field for much of last season might have played a role, while Patota pointed to the area that has spurred his improvement this season.

“My junior year, I put up some good numbers, but my swing was not pretty,” Patota said.

Patota is currently set to attend Southern Union State Community College in Opelika, Alabama, and the program there has sent multiple players to college baseball powers in recent years. Patota has received significant interest from Division I programs like Indiana, Pittsburgh and Rutgers, but his dream program is Auburn. Patota said the coaches there have said that they’re interested and that they could offer him after he spends some time at Southern Union.

“I think that’s what I’m probably going to end up doing,” Patota said.

And like McCarthy, Patota has been in contact with some folks on the professional side. He’s talked multiple times with a scout from the Cincinnati Reds and has heard other scouts with the Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox. It would take getting picked in a high round for Patota to sign, though, and he’s doubtful that he could go there.

There could be even more colleges interested in Patota, but he said that his coaches at Pinecrest are withholding that information so that he can focus on the season. The Paladins are currently 11-11-1, with a chance to better the performance from last season that resulted in the first state playoff appearance in school history.

Patota’s performance has been an essential factor in the program reaching this point. And in retrospect, knowing what Patota did to reach this level, it might not be so unexpected after all.

“(Given) the work that he’s put in, I’m not surprised at all what he’s been able to do this year.”