CR baseball seniors aim for strong finish

CAMDEN — If things were different, Matt Donovan probably wouldn’t be playing baseball right now.

But the Caesar Rodney High catcher is a senior — this is his last chance.

So nine months after having surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, Donovan has been regular behind the plate for the Riders.

“They (his doctors) kind of said, if I wasn’t a senior, they probably wouldn’t let me come back this early,” he said. “But it was my senior year. I wanted to get it in. I still try to go (to rehab) once a week to get done what I can.”

So just because CR’s record is only 4-8 right now, that doesn’t mean players like Donovan are ready to give up.

CR first baseman Jake Chandler is helped to his feet by teammate Matthew Donovan after a high throw put him in the path of a Dover runner. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Donovan is one of just six seniors on a Riders’ roster that also features five sophomores and three freshmen.

With six games remaining on the schedule, CR is still optimistic it can get on a roll down the stretch.

The Riders play at Delmar on Thursday afternoon. It’s the last in a streak of nine straight road games for CR.

“It’s important for the seniors,” first-year coach Jeff Gravatt said about trying to finish strong. “The seniors don’t care about next year. Being young is an excuse.

“Even at 4-8, our team, on Sunday, had a voluntary practice. They’re taking ownership for getting better themselves. They know what they have to work on. They’re working hard and we’re getting better.”

Gravatt likes his team’s toughness — especially players like Donovan. The youngster played through the shoulder injury for much of last season before having surgery in August.

Gravatt wasn’t sure if Donovan would be able to play this season or not. But now he has the best batting average (.360) on the squad.

Jeff Gravatt

“He loves baseball,” said Gravatt. “He tries to get everyone around him to love it as much as he does. It’s great to have a leader like that.

“He always wants to know when he can get extra reps in. The younger guys see that and feed off of it.”

Two of those younger guys are freshmen Ryan Rigby and Brandon Hatch.

Hatch, a third baseman, showed the Riders his toughness when he took a bad-hop grounder off his face in a game against Archmere.

Gravatt did take the youngster out but Hatch wanted to stay in the game — bloody nose and all.

CR freshman Ryan Rigby

“He’s got that hard-nosed attitude that we’ve been trying to get out of these kids,” said Gravatt. “He (Hatch) wants to see blood on his jersey every time he goes out there. It’s great to see that from a ninth grader.”

Hatch said he gets his toughness from his dad, Tony, a former CR football standout.

“My dad, he’s always raised me to keep pushing, to never give up,” said the younger Hatch. “‘You know what you’ve got to do, get it done.’”

Rigby has been through some tough times, too, as he makes the transition from middle school to high school. But Gravatt said he’s also seen a great deal of potential from the youngster, who’s played shortstop, pitcher and catcher this season.

CR freshman Brandon Hatch

“He’s one of those kids who’s so developed for a freshman,” said Gravatt. “He came in ready to step up and play at this level. It’s really special to have a kid like that play on your team.

“It’s exciting because he’s a very versatile player. He can play wherever you put him on the field.”

“I was surprised (to be on varsity),” said Rigby. “I wasn’t really expecting it. We have a good group of young guys. I think we’re pretty well set for the future.

“We can’t use ‘we’re young,’ as an excuse. We’ve got to keep going. We do have some older guys. It’s their last year so we have to give it what we’ve got.”

Several of CR’s young players have had success before.

Rigby and Hatch were both members of the Camden-Wyoming Junior League all-star squad that won the state title in 2015. The Riders hope it’s just a matter of time before they start winning again.

“We’re just getting the young guys ready I guess you could say,” said Donovan. “Next year and the year after that, I think they’ll be really good.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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