Donaldson reaches single-game hit mark in Tech win

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Casanova Donaldson’s .200 batting average entering Wednesday’s game may as well have been an April fools joke on ETSU, as his average ballooned to .360 before the night was through. The sophomore tied a school record, going 5-for-5 from the plate, as the Tennessee Tech baseball team lit up the scoreboard for 15 runs in Tech’s 15-7 win over the Bucs.

However, if it wasn’t for a late lineup change by Tech head coach Matt Bragga, things may have gone differently for the Golden Eagles. Less than a half-hour before game-time, Bragga put Donaldson into the ninth spot in the starting lineup, instead of giving him the day off. “I didn’t even know I was going to play, and then last minute coach said ‘Cass, you’re in center field,’” Donaldson said. “And I was like ‘ok coach, I’ll do that.’”

And Donaldson was ready when his number was called.

“Coach has prepared us to win the at bat every time you come to the plate, and that’s what I try to do every night.”

“Casanova was hitting like that all intersquad season, all of January and into February,” Bragga said. “He hasn’t been playing everyday, so sometimes it’s hard to get into that rhythm, but he’s been swinging the bat really well lately, and obviously he got into that rhythm tonight.”

The Golden Eagles (12-10, 0-5) also got help from Alex Henry and Evan Webb, who each went 3-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs. Sophomore Chad Oberacker, who got the win as Tech’s pitcher, also went 3-for-5, and finished with an RBI. Sophomore A.J. Kirby-Jones and freshman Ben Burgess put together multi-hit games as well, as Kirby-Jones went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and Burgess went 2-for-5 with three RBIs.

“I think our guys just did a good job of sitting back tonight, and that is an important part of hitting,” Bragga said. “It wasn’t anything special that we did, we didn’t do anything different, it’s just that our guys did a better job tonight.”

Tech 15 runs set a new high for the Golden Eagles this season, and couldn’t have come at a better time. Tech has struggled to score runs recently, averaging just over three runs per game in its last seven contests.

“It’s really big to put up a 15-spot,” Bragga said. “It’s been a while since we’ve scored double-digits, and it’s great to see our offense do that. We have a good offense, it’s just a matter of getting it going.”

The Golden Eagles were able to get on the board early, as Henry hit a leadoff home run in the first inning off former Cookeville High School standout Bo Reeder in the first inning. The score stayed 1-0 until the bottom of the fourth, when Webb hit a solo homer off Reeder. Ironically, Webb was mistakenly wearing Henry’s number-13 jersey, while Henry wore the jersey of pitcher Adam Liberatore, who did not play.

The bottom of the fifth is when the Tech bats really got going. Donaldson led off the inning with a double to center field, and scored on Henry’s single on the next play. Tech’s first five batter of the inning all hit safely before Reeder was replaced by Bo Burton. But Burton couldn’t get out of a two-out jam, as Tech piled on four more hits in the innings. The Golden Eagles tallied eight runs in the frame, and three Tech batters, Donaldson, Henry and Oberacker each had two hits, as Tech took a 10-0 advantage.

The Bucs got one run back in the seventh, as Derek Trent hit an RBI single up the middle that scored Garrett May, who had reached on an error. But Tech responded by exploding for five more runs in the bottom of the inning. After Tech’s first two batters in the seventh inning struck out, Donaldson’s single sparked a two-out, five-run rally, highlighted by Kirby-Jones’ double to center field that scored two runs.

Oberacker pitched six shutout innings, while striking out seven ETSU batters and allowing just three hits in the win.

Tech has two days off before taking the road for a three-game series at Morehead State in Ohio Valley Conference action. The Golden Eagles have the leagues’ toughest two teams behind them, as Southeast Missouri and Eastern Illinois, who met in last years’ OVC title game are a combined 11-0 in conference play this season.

“As of right now I think we’re a new team,” Donaldson said. “We’ve got our head on straight. We’re ready for the conference now, and we will come out on top.”