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Warhawks’ Donovan excels when heat is on

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THOMAS J. MILLER
May 25, 2011
— If Jeff Donovan defused bombs for a living, he’d probably eat his lunch, make a few phone calls and get down to business with 59 seconds left on the timer.

He enjoys pressure.


“I love it,” Donovan said. “I really do.”


The UW-Whitewater senior will get another opportunity to perform under pressure starting Friday. The Warhawks are in the eight-team, double-elimination NCAA Division III World Series for college baseball at Fox Cities Stadium in Grand Chute.


Donovan will start the Warhawks’ opening game against Buena Vista (Iowa) College on the mound or at first base. Whitewater coach John Vodenlich is not tipping his hand on who will be his first-game starting pitcher.


Vodenlich knows Donovan won’t wilt if he is on the mound Friday.


“He wants to be up in a bases-loaded situation, down by four,” Vodenlich said. “He wants the toughest hitter up when he needs to strike him out. He thrives on that.”


In fact, Vodenlich is more concerned when the Warhawks are up 11-1 with Donovan pitching than when the score is tied.


“I like to have something to light a fire under me,” Donovan admitted.


Donovan has been fortunate to have infernos under him for most of his collegiate career.


He enrolled in Whitewater out of Wauwatosa East High School the fall after the Warhawks won the 2005 NCAA Division III baseball title.


The 6-foot-5 Donovan spent four straight autumns playing football. All the Warhawks did was go to four NCAA Division III national title games.


The final two years, Donovan started at quarterback.


In the two national title games, both against Mount Union, Donovan threw for 580 yards. As a senior, he threw for 323 yards and two TDs to help the Warhawks to a 38-28 victory over the Purple Raiders for the 2009 national title.


That performance capped off a season when he was the WIAC Player of the Year and a career during which he completed 482 of 708 passes for 6,358 yards and 44 TDs.


His baseball career has included a trip to the World Series in 2008, when the Warhawks finished third.


He still had a year of baseball eligibility left this season because poor grades made him ineligible after his junior season of football.


“I did real bad in the classroom,” Donovan said. “I didn’t take care of my business off the field.”


That gave him a spring off going into his senior football season. And it resulted in a free first semester this past autumn going into his senior baseball season.


“It really did work out well in a strange way,” Donovan said.


Donovan stayed out of the way as much as possible this past football season when Matt Blanchard took over at quarterback. Blanchard was injured at the end of the regular season, and Lee Brekke came on to lead the Warhawks to their second consecutive national title.


“It was kind of strange,” Donovan said about being a spectator. “But clearly, they did not need me around.”


He chuckled, but he did not want to be a distraction to this past season’s team.


“I just wanted it to be (Blanchard’s) time,” he said.


Donovan has been a dominant presence on the Warhawk baseball team.


He has a team-leading eight homers and 50 RBIs for his 36-11 team. He is batting .390 with 64 hits. On the mound, he is 10-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 82 2/3 innings.


And continuing his trend of coming up big when needed, Donovan was named the Most Outstanding Player in last week’s regional tournament when he had a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings pitched. He also hit a homer and had three RBIs and four runs scored in the four victories.


“I’ve always dreamed of getting drafted,” said Donovan, whose father, Michael, pitched in the Milwaukee Brewer organization from 1979-1983. “But I haven’t talked to any scouts, so I don’t think that’s going to happen.”


Donovan says he has never paid 100 percent attention to baseball, and he believes his best days of hitting are ahead of him.


His prospects of pitching on a pro level are limited.


“I’m a righthander, and I don’t throw 90 (mph),” he said. “I throw 85 to 87, and as a righthander, that will get you lit up.”


If he doesn’t get drafted, Donovan will consider offers to play baseball in the Czech Republic or football in Switzerland.


And he’ll have time to reflect on all the success he had at UW-Whitewater.


“To say I expected all these great things to happen athletically when I came here would be a little idealistic,” Donovan said. “In the back of my mind, I knew it was possible, but to have it happen is really special.”



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