Immaculata High School grad and former Diamond Jack Colin Donnelly finds himself smack in the middle of a scintillating post-season run with Quinnipiac University.
Fresh off their first-ever Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, Donnelly and his teammates square off at 6 p.m. Friday in Greenville, North Carolina with region host East Carolina (43-15), ranked No. 10 in the nation. The game will be televised on ESPN3.
Quinnipiac (29-27) has won seven straight games, including a 6-5 victory in 13 innings over Fairfield in the MAAC championship game on Sunday. Donnelly (6-1) came out of the bullpen to nail down two of Quinnipiac’s three straight victories in the MAAC tournament and was named to the MAAC’s All-Tournament team.
The left-handed Donnelly entered the championship game with one out in the sixth inning and closed out a remarkably efficient 7.2 scoreless innings in which he permitted just four hits, struck out five and walked one. Evan Vulgamore scored from third on a wild pitch with two outs in the bottom of the 13th to set off a wild celebration as the Bobcats hoisted the MAAC Conference tournament trophy. The Bobcats also won a share of their first regular season MAAC title, finishing 17-7 in the conference.
“I’m very happy for Colin,” said Immaculata coach Kevin Cust. “I always knew he had great upside since he transferred to us as a junior. I know he has worked hard the past few years and it is paying off big time. I’m very proud of him.”
Donnelly came into the sixth inning with runners on the corners and immediately walked the first batter he faced to load the bases. But he recovered to induce a fly ball to left field that enabled the runner on third base to tag and score as Fairfield evened the game at 5-5. Donnelly got the next batter to ground out and end the threat.
“Throughout the game I kept reminding myself to focus on my breathing and that this was just another game, even though in reality, it wasn’t,” said Donnelly. “I told our pitching coach (Pat) Egan this was my game and he responded by saying, ‘well then prove it to me.’ So I knew I couldn’t let anyone cross the plate.”
Donnelly, a junior, was fairly clean from there, surviving the only real threats by Fairfield when Dylan Reynolds doubled with two outs in the seventh inning and Jack Gethings singled with two outs in the 11th and stole second base. He would throw just 89 pitches and permit just five base runners in the 7.2 innings.
“I wasn’t too worried when those runners got to second,” said Donnelly. “I had faced Fairfield twice during the regular season and had a pretty good idea of how to pitch their hitters. I also knew I had great fielders behind me and anyone could step up to make a big play when I needed it.
“Evan, my third basemen, did that exactly by completely laying out for a ball in the five-hole to end the seventh inning.”
Donnelly was even more dominant when he earned the victory with his three innings of relief against Manhattan in Game 2 of the MAAC tournament. He entered with one out in the sixth inning and a runner on first in a 6-6 game. Donnelly got two outs around a single, the only base runner he would allow in the relief stint. He induced another former Diamond Jack, Manhattan’s cleanup hitter Matt Padre, to bounce into a fielder’s choice to end the sixth.
“I had faced Matt in the first game of our regular season series the week before,” said Donnelly. “It was a huge situation in the playoffs with runners on first and third in a tie game. It was ironic he came up since I had played with him through the years with the Diamond Jacks, in eighth grade at J.P. Case Middle School and sophomore year at Hunterdon Central.” Donnelly transferred to Immaculata after his sophomore year.
Donnelly would retire the side in order in the seventh and eighth innings and strike out the leadoff batter in the ninth before he was pulled for closer Andrew Workman. Workman closed out the win from there for his 10th save.
“It is a huge honor to bring Quinnipiac the first MAAC regular season championship and tournament title,” says Donnelly, “especially playing a big role in the semifinals and the championship game. Our head coach John Delaney and coach Egan have worked extremely hard to get us to this point. Seven years ago, this program won only eight games and had one of the worst records in college baseball. This is seven years in the making, by getting new and better recruits and finding kids who trusted what he was saying.”
The four-team Region field is a strong one and includes North Carolina State (42-17) and Campbell University (35-19), which meet in the other first round matchup on Friday. The tournament is double elimination and concludes on Sunday or Monday, depending if the final round pairing lasts one game or two.
“Having the opportunity to play in a regional is an unreal feeling,” said Donnelly. “Our team also has the highest ranking for a team in the MAAC in a long time, possibly ever. Facing the No. 10 team in the country, we have more than our work cut out for us. I played with Jake Kuchmaner, who is starting against us Friday, with the Baltimore Redbirds for a couple weeks in the Cal Ripken League last summer. He is going to be a very tough arm to face for our lineup. We did not back down to Wake Forest’s best arm earlier in the season and he didn’t even get through an inning against us.”
Quinnipiac defeated Wake Forest, 8-6, on Feb. 23. Wake was ranked No. 20 in the nation at the time.
Donnelly has been told he could be the first arm out of the bullpen on Friday since the East Carolina lineup is loaded with lefty bats. “Obviously, I am extremely excited about that and, after throwing 124 pitches on Saturday and Sunday, I have been doing everything I can to get my arm back to 100 percent. I wanted to make sure I did everything in my power to feel good, after all it is not everyday you are playing in a regional.”
Donnelly’s junior season has been a strong one throughout, despite the 6-1, 205-pounder having to pitch through an early season hand injury. His 27 appearances tied the school record for a single season. He is 6-1 with a 3.86 ERA over 53.2 innings. He’s permitted 23 earned runs while striking out 46 and walking 16.
That followed a sophomore season in which Donnelly led the Bobcats in earned run average. He appeared in 18 games, all out of the bullpen, posting a 2.53 ERA. He struck out 18 batters in 21.1 innings of work. His MAAC tournament success actually began that sophomore season. He appeared in all of the team’s three conference tournament games and pitched 2.2 innings of shutout ball, permitting just one hit. The finance major made just five appearances as a freshman, including one start.
Donnelly’s senior year at Immaculata was a productive one, both on the mound and at the plate. Used as both a starter and in relief by Spartans coach Kevin Cust, Donnelly posted a paltry 1.01 ERA in 51 innings. The lefty hitter also batted .330. He earned Second Team All-Skyland Conference.
“I feel like we have a very good chance to compete in this regional,” said Donnelly. “Our lineup, 1-through-9, is very dangerous our No. 8hitter leads the program in home runs. Everything is clicking for us at the right time and I hope we can put Quinnipiac on the map.”
Colin and his two brothers, Connor and Brendan, played for the Diamond Jacks program out of Diamond Nation in Flemington, N.J. His family has since moved to Maryland.