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HAGEN: Canova’s Donahue to play a new role at state

CANOVA — To Jared Donahue, Canova’s 2009 state amateur baseball championship feels like forever ago.

It’s still one of his favorite baseball memories, a year Canova was exhausted of a 30-year state championship drought and won its first amateur title since 1979. The town endured heartbreak at state several times between the titles, coming in second place eight times, which included a string of four straight runner-up finishes from 1997 to 2000.

The memory of the state title is still vivid to Donahue, who pitched and won three tournament games in 2009 and was named the Class B MVP. Beating Dell Rapids PBR 11-7 in the championship game in front of a huge crowd, Donahue started and tossed six innings, striking out eight and giving up six hits. He also picked up wins in the first round against Larchwood and in the quarterfinals against the Dell Rapids Mudcats. In the three games, he threw 22 2/3 innings and struck out 33.

Canova returned to state in 2010, picking up a first-round win over Chamberlain in which Donahue picked up the win in relief. He pitched again later in the tournament against the Dell Rapids Mudcats, and didn’t play when the team was knocked out by eventual-champion Dimock/Emery. In 2011, Donahue took a one-year hiatus from Canova and played for Winner/Colome, recording 18 strikeouts in a first-round state tournament win over Garretson.

Donahue — who played for South Dakota State University’s baseball team before transferring to Dakota State — loves pitching in big games and especially loves the state amateur baseball tournament. This year’s tournament started earlier this week and runs through Aug. 18 in Sioux Falls.

Like most years, Canova has a strong roster and may have as good of chance at winning the title as any other team. Ranked No. 2 in the final Class B poll, Canova opens its tournament at 5:30 p.m. today against Volga at Sioux Falls Stadium. This year, though, Donahue won’t play as large of role as he did in 2009.

On July 4 last year in a game against Salem, Donahue injured the labrum in his pitching shoulder.

“It popped and I couldn’t hardly lift it the next couple of days,” he said while discussing this year’s tournament earlier this week.

About a month later, Donahue had surgery and couldn’t help Canova at the 2012 state tournament. His team eventually bowed out in a quarterfinal game to Alexandria.

Now slowly getting back on the field this season, Donahue has pitched in three games for a total of seven innings. His fastball that once topped out at 90 mph maybe hits 80 mph now, he says.

“It’s been tough,” Donahue said. “It’s tough watching my teammates out there. But I’m trying to get back healthy. I probably won’t be able to throw like I used to, or the workload that I did, but it will be nice to throw again.”

He admits being the workhorse in 2009 and throwing deep into ballgames likely led to his shoulder injury. Donahue also pitched often in high school, helping Winner to a state Legion championship in 2006. He doesn’t regret all the innings he’s thrown, but says it’s been frustrating trying to rebuild his arm after surgery.

It’s state tournament time, and Donahue really wants to be on the mound.

Now, if Canova wants to make a deep run at state, the team will do it without the dominance of Donahue. During the tournament this year, he’s an option to pitch for a few innings on a limited basis. It will be a new role this year for Donahue, who’s used to being the go-to starter at state.

“It will be tough to watch because you get used to being in charge of the game. I like to be in that spot. It will be difficult to watch someone else do it, but on the same token those guys know what they’re doing,” he said, explaining many of the same players who were on the 2009 team are still on Canova’s roster. “I think they’ll be OK.”