Charlotte Christian baseball coach Greg Simmons said teams aren’t crazy about pitching to his power-hitting catcher.
The Knights’ Drew Donathan is a 6-foot-1, 215-pound senior who in 22 games has been walked 33 times, third-most in school history. And that isn’t new. He was walked 32 times as a junior.
But when given a chance to put the ball in play, Donathan makes it count. He’s batting .391 with 20 RBIs and two home runs.
Donathan and the Knights began an N.C. Independent Schools championship series against High Point Wesleyan (26-1). Wesleyan won Game 1 6-2 and Game 2 is Saturday. Charlotte Christian (30-4) must win to force a deciding Game 3 and win the school’s sixth state title in seven seasons.
“Drew is strong as a bull,” Simmons said. “Nobody wants to pitch to him.”
Donathan missed about a month of the season after breaking his hand in Christian’s third game this season. He broke his nose in the opener.
“This is a kid who is just tough,” Simmons said. “He sat out a month and was still all-conference and all-state.”
Donathan’s father, Tom, was a catcher at Sanford’s Lee Senior High who played college golf at East Carolina. Like his father, Drew played baseball growing up but dabbled in football - until ninth grade.
“I knew when I quit football that I could be pretty good at this whole baseball thing,” Donathan said. “I just needed to work at it and put my full attention to it. I felt I could be something special if I gave 110 percent and focused on it.”
He found by not having football workouts and practice, he had time to devote to strengthening his body and improving his baseball skills. Donathan enrolled at southeast Charlotte’s U.S. Sports Performance Center and spent five days a week there working on weight training and speed and agility.
Donathan was 5-11 and 135 pounds his freshman year at Christian. He’s grown nearly 3 and added about 80 pounds.
“Sometimes,” he said, “when I look at pictures of me from eighth and ninth grade, I don’t recognize msyelf. It’s pretty crazy.”
The strength and skill work have allowed Donathan to be a feared catcher, known for throwing out base runners and producing big hits.
“It doesn’t matter where you pitch him,” Providence Day coach Jim Cerbie said. “You pitch him inside, he’ll pull it. Pitch him away, he’ll hit it to right-center. He’s just a big, strong kid who gets a manly hack.
“If you can keep the guys in front of him off the bases, you can limit the damage he can do. But if those guys get on base, you’re setting the table for a really big problem.”
Simmons said Donathan’s work ethic made him a Rawlings preseason All-American and an ACC college prospect.
“He’s probably one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever had,” Simmons said. “He’s a two-year captain and we don’t have very many junior captains. He just works hard. He’s a kid who loves the game and he’s always out here.
“I’ll come home from church and he’ll be (on the field) hitting. And the great thing is, it’s not just him. He’ll bring four or five other guys from the team with him.”
Simmons is in his 25th season as the Knights’ coach. He’s won 13 state championships and five of the past six. He said he’s coached 10 players who were taken in the Major League Baseball Draft or played professionally. Donathan is one of 70 players he’s coached to sign with a college.
“There’s no secret sauce,” Simmons said of Christian’s success. “There’s no magic bullet. We’ve got a process and our kids believe in the process and we try to outwork everybody and commit to that process. I think the hard part is everybody thinks, when you’re winning, you’ve either got a corner on the market, or you’re cheating or doing something nobody else does.
“I’m doing the same thing I did 25 years ago. We just want to outwork people. We want to come to the ballpark and take more ground balls, more fly balls, swing the bat more. Instead of complicating the game, we want to simplify it. And the secret is, we’ve had some good players here, too.”
Like Donathan, whom Simmons believes has the tools to become a professional player one day, given his powerful right arm and batting acumen.
But what Donathan wants for now is pretty simple: to leave high school with a state championship.
“That’s what you work for all offseason, and it’s been a rocky, up-and-down season for me, especially with the injuries,” Donathan said. “But to go out being one of the elders of the team and winning (a state championship) would be super special.
“Not that the one we won sophomore year wasn’t special, but I was in a supporting role then, to now being the guy. This year is a big difference, and to go out of on top now, man, it would be super special.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr