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THE FRONT ROW WITH JASON ELLIOTT: McDonald missing one final run with his boys

| May 16, 2020 1:10 AM

Who knows, today could have been Timberlake High’s breakthrough day at the state 3A baseball tournament.

A senior-heavy squad back from last year’s team, with experience in key positions, it’s possible the Tigers could have advanced to the championship game.

Unfortunately, seniors like Jack McDonald will have to settle for the one — and only — game they were able to play in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

ON THAT day, Timberlake rolled behind a nine-strikeout performance on the mound by the lefty-throwing McDonald, who also scored three runs for the Tigers in a 12-0 win at St. Maries on March 11.

“We had no idea that would be it,” McDonald said. “We thought that the whole COVID thing was going to last a week or two. Then it turned into maybe having a baseball season to no season.”

McDonald was the Intermountain League MVP as a junior.

“We knew we were going to be really good this year,” McDonald said. “The kids that are going to play at the next level, they’re not going to be affected by us not playing this year. But those guys that aren’t going on to play, this was going to be it. A few of us, we’d go down to the field to hit and play catch.”

After the shutdown, McDonald turned his attention to his next move.

“I’d just been looking for a college that wanted to take me,” McDonald said. “I was just looking for the next step.”

That step will take him to the Community Colleges of Spokane, where he’ll play baseball next fall.

“We got new high school coaches this year, and one of them was Bryce Johnson (an assistant to Bill Rider, who returned this year after a four-year hiatus),” McDonald said. “Bryce had played baseball there and was telling me about they’re good for developing pitchers, and that got me really interested. One call led to another and the head coach reached out to me. All of the sophomores were granted an extra year of eligibility, but eight of them ended up going to four-year schools, and they had a spot for me.”

At Spokane, McDonald will join forces with Devon Johnson, a senior outfielder from Coeur d’Alene High.

“I’ve played against him a few times, but haven’t talked to him about Spokane yet,” McDonald said. “I’m really looking forward to being part of the program.”

“Jack would fit in with any team at the next level,” Rider said. “He is far more athletic that many know. He will surprise a lot of people with what he can do physically. I can usually find a place to hit a ball with my fungo where my best centerfielders can’t go and catch it. I know I only had about five practices on a field with Jack, but I couldn’t run my tandem-relay drill when Jack was in center. He forced me to hit the ball in the corners. The bigger space in the outfield, the more impressive play was possible for Jack. I think he is underrated as a position player because he is such a good pitcher.”

McDONALD PLAYED three sports during most his time at Timberlake, and was a four-year member of the varsity baseball team, the first three years coached by Cameron Knigge.

“Baseball is by far my favorite sport,” McDonald said. “I grew up playing baseball and my dad (Rob) played minor league baseball for the Fresno Mud Ducks. He taught me how to do everything, and I got really good at baseball.”

So good early on that McDonald could throw with both his left and right hand.

“I’m the only one that’s left-handed in my family,” McDonald said. “My dad made jokes all the time that I was doing it wrong, but it was funny. When I was younger, I could throw both ways, but I threw better from the left, but always bat from the right.”

And his goals were sky high.

“I’ve been saying since I was 5 or 6 that I was going to be a major league baseball player,” McDonald said. “I always wanted to be a shortstop and wanted to play there. I had a coach tell me that left-handed players don’t play there, but I also liked playing in the field and wanted to be an outfielder. As a freshman, the coach put me on varsity and into some tough situations, so by then, I kind of knew I was going to play in the outfield or be a pitcher.”

“Jack wanted to play shortstop this year just to prove he could do it,” Rider said. “He also thought he should be able to play quarterback in football, so he could see how he measured up against Joey (Follini, who started at QB at Timberlake for three years).”

On the football team, McDonald, who is 5-foot-10 played wide receiver, safety and was the team’s kicker, earning all-league honors as a place kicker and punter. McDonald is a right-footed kicker.

“When I lived in California, I played soccer,” McDonald said. “When I moved to Idaho, a Junior Tackle coach saw me and asked if I wanted to play football. I continued to grow in strength and always knew how to kick the ball. I’ve thought about playing in college, and a bunch of my football coaches told me they’d get me to a college for kicking, but I knew I wanted to play baseball.”

DURING HIS time at Timberlake, McDonald played on teams that advanced to the consolation championship game each of the past three seasons, losing each time.

But not without a fight.

“We’re usually a real scrappy team at state,” McDonald said. “We don’t typically have the big home run hitters, or guys that throw 90-plus (miles an hour). But that’s not what it’s about. We bring a lot of energy and always fight.”

And there might not be a better example than a loser-out game against South Fremont in McDonald’s sophomore season in 2018, an 8-7 win.

“It was a really close game and I walked to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning,” McDonald said. “I stole second and then third base. Our coach called a suicide squeeze, and the catcher missed the ball and we won the game on that.”

“Jack is a great leader, mostly because of how competitive he is,” Rider said. “He wants to be the best, and his peers rise to those expectations.

McDonald added that missing out on a fourth straight trip to state was pretty disappointing for a few reasons.

“That experience isn’t something you can match playing summer baseball,” McDonald said. “You can’t match having that chance with all your boys.”

Jason Elliott is a sports writer for The Press. He can be reached by email at Follow him on Twitter @JECdAPress.