By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
For most athletic programs a 17-0 record, a No. 2 state ranking and No. 4 national ranking is something to boast about, an accomplishment to hang your hat on.
But not the Buchanan baseball team.
They’ve been there before, as recent as 2011 when they finished ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 30-2 overall record. And last year they got hot at the right time and marched to a TRAC title and D-1 Central Section title finishing the year ranked No. 12 by USA Today.
The Bears are currently undefeated on the season with a mix of fantastic pitching, timely hitting and defense. But coach Tom Donald constantly preaches the process of the game, not getting caught up too much on rankings and attention.
“We can’t get caught up in that because it doesn’t really mean anything this early,” said Donald after their 3-2 win over Clovis East on March 29. “It’s a nice pat on the back. We don’t even talk about it with the team, we want that ranking at the end of the year.”
Replacing seven starters from a great 2015 team was no easy task but if there’s one program that can do it, it’s Buchanan. In short, they don’t rebuild, they reload.
Two players that received significant playing time last year are junior catcher Zach Presno and senior pitcher and first baseman Grant Gambrell. This season, it’s their turn to step into a leadership role, left behind by last year’s seniors such as Levi Zosky, Zach Ashford, Connor Loeprich, DJ Martinez and Ross Dodds, who all went on to play college baseball.
Gambrell, who is having a monster season not only on the mound (7-0) but at the plate (four home runs) has taken the leadership challenge despite his calm demeanor. He may not show much emotion but he’s a Bear at heart.
Donald is impressed by Gambrell in more ways than one.
“I think last year he didn’t have a defined role and this year he’s had to carry a different load,” Donald says. “He’s had to be a vocal leader, he’s had to lead by example by work ethic.”
Oh yeah, and there’s a “dude” factor that comes into play. Let Donald explain: “We have a saying – there are baseball players and there are ‘dudes’ and when it’s late in the game and there’s a blister on your finger then you have to be a ‘dude’ – someone who competes and wants to win.”
Gambrell did develop a tiny blister on his right index finger during his complete game victory over Clovis East, a 3-2 nail biter, but that didn’t deter his ferociousness. The big righty Oregon State signee was succinct in his assessment of the game: “Everything was working tonight.”
And about his ability to dig deep, “My coaches tell me I must be a bulldog and I take that to heart. I try and perform my best at all times.”
Gambrell also had the same demeanor at the plate as he delivered a two-run, two-out double to give the Bears a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
Buchanan followed up their win against Clovis East with a 12-3 victory over Clovis West on April 1. The big match-up is waiting on April 5 when the Bears march into Clovis High (17-1). Clovis is currently ranked No. 6 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and boasts a strong pitcher in Zac Whittaker.