Donko dominates late-game situations

Photo provided by: Michal Voscek
Photo provided by Michal Voscek

Metallica’s classic hit “Enter Sandman” will forever be associated with the man it introduced to Yankee Stadium, legendary closer Mariano Rivera.

Closing pitchers are typically expected to maintain an intimidating persona, similar to Rivera’s, in closely contested, late-game situations. Assuming this role is no easy task – unless you’re VCU’s closer Sam Donko.    

“I watched guys like Mariano Rivera pitching when I was growing up; guys that would just go out there and shut it down,” Donko said. “That feeling of closing a big game out is a feeling I’ve always wanted.”

Although the junior right-hander only began closing this past summer, his opponents have definitely been sleeping with one eye open this season.

In 22 appearances, Donko has posted staggering numbers – 15 saves with a 1.88 earned run average and 38 strikeouts in 43 innings pitched.

“There hasn’t really been a transition this year, I’m the same guy,” Donko said. “I’ve always wanted to (close games), and just finally got the opportunity.”

The Youngstown, Ohio native’s experience in pressure-filled situations helped him to dominate hitters during his first spring in division one baseball.

Donko won an NJCAA national championship in 2014 with Iowa Western Junior College. He says that his two years at the junior college level are heavily responsible for his current success.

“At Iowa Western I learned the game,” Donko said. “As an 18-year-old kid at the college level, baseball picked up speed. It was a lot faster than high school ball. Iowa Western slowed the game down and taught me the logistics.”

Donko was reluctant to pinpoint any specific aspect of his game that’s working for him on the mound, instead noting with work of his coaching staff.

“Coach (Steve) Hay does a really good job with me,” Donko said. “He sees what I have warming up and knows what I’m going to be able to use to get guys out — if something’s not working, he will call pitches off of it. I think Coach Hay understands me better than I do.”

The Rams are 27-14 overall and 10-5 atop the Atlantic 10 standings. Seemingly primed for another deep postseason run, Donko said he is hoping the ballclub will follow his lead and be who they are regardless of the situation.

“I think we just need to stay consistent,” Donko said. “You don’t want to sway from being great and have those rocky starts. It’s important to let your guys know that you’re going to be the same every time you go out there.”

Baseball has won 19 of i’s 22 games where Donko made an appearance. Although Mariano Rivera comparisons are a long way off, opponents are starting to dread the entrance of a dominant closer when the Rams go to their ninth-inning man. Exit light, enter night – they’re bringing in Donko.    
Zach Joachim,Contributing Writer

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