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MLB DRAFT: Former Sullivan East star drafted by Padres

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Posted: Thursday, June 7, 2012 2:02 pm

Matthew Shepherd knew it was coming, but it didn’t suppress his enthusiasm.

The former Sullivan East High School standout was still thrilled when the San Diego Padres picked him in the 31st round (945th overall pick) of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft on Wednesday afternoon.

“It was a dream come true, man,” Shepherd said. “You play through Little League and high school hoping to get that chance. When your name pops up you just feel blessed.”

A San Diego official had called Shepherd on Wednesday morning and notified him that his selection was imminent.

“The Padres told me they were going to pick me up or try to,” Shepherd said. “The draft kept going and going and sure enough they picked me in the 31st round. I had an idea I was going to go, I just didn’t know when.”

Shepherd spent the past four seasons pitching at Tennessee Tech University, compiling an 11-16 career record and registering 183 strikeouts for the Golden Eagles.

He was just 4-5 with a 6.12 ERA this season, but the scouts saw something they liked in the 6-foot-3, 185-pound right-hander. Baseball America ranked him as one of the best prospects in the Ohio Valley Conference before the season and lauded what he had to offer on the mound.

“I just try to go out there and do everything I can to give my team a chance to win,” Shepherd said. “I threw pretty well when the conference schedule started; I had a 4-0 record and an ERA around two or three. But I struggled near the end. My fastball was still pretty good and my change-up was working well. I was throwing strikes and not walking many people. I guess they just saw me battling every time I went out there.”

That tough mentality was present when Shepherd was pitching at Sullivan East.

“Matt’s one of those kids that was always working on his game,” said Mike Breuninger, Shepherd’s coach at Sullivan East. “He was always at the field throwing. He was just a hard worker and did a great job.”

Shepherd could be assigned to San Diego’s farm team in the rookie-level Arizona League or the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds of the short-season advanced Northwest League. Breuninger feels that his former star player will adapt to the pro game.

“Anytime you see somebody from your program getting that opportunity, that’s a great thing,” Breuninger said. “We’re all happy for Matt. I think he’ll continue to work hard and make the most of this opportunity.”

There also might be a few new Padre fans in Shepherd’s hometown of Bluff City, Tenn.

“Maybe there will be in the next couple of days,” Shepherd said. “I’ll get them riled up.”

Science Hill High School pitcher Matthew Pope was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 38th round (1,156th overall pick). The right-hander has signed with the University of Kentucky.

Shepherd and Pope were the only locals selected on Wednesday, when rounds 16-40 were completed in the event. Tazewell High School pitcher Zak Wasilewski was drafted on Tuesday in the 14th round by the Toronto Blue Jays.

Other notable picks on Wednesday included Western Carolina University second baseman Ross Heffley, who shared the infield with former Richlands High School star Bradley Strong this season with the Catamounts, going in the 18th round to the Atlanta Braves.

Tennessee Wesleyan of the NAIA Appalachian Athletic Conference had two pitchers drafted as Jeremy Fitzgerald (21st round, Atlanta Braves) and Levi Dean (23rd round, Seattle Mariners) were taken, while Union (Ky.) College’s Chris Fern went to the San Francisco Giants in the 27th round.

Players that were drafted Wednesday by the Chicago White Sox that could possibly begin their careers with the Appalachian League’s Bristol White Sox included Virginia Military Institute pitcher Adam Lopez (1-3, 8.40 ERA) and the uniquely named Storm Throne, a right-handed pitcher from Morningside (Iowa) College.

thayes@bristolnews.com | Twitter:@Hayes_BHCSports | (276) 645-257

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