By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
In the Valley championship baseball game so thick with intensity you could slice it with a knife, Clovis’ Connor Jorgensen took his lead off third base with two outs late in a 1-1 tie when third base coach Storm Chandler surveyed the short distance between home plate and the backstop and calmly whispered some sound advice: “Don’t go unless you’re positive.”
Jorgensen calculated his options: “If a ball gets by the catcher can I make it?”
Then the Mad Dash of Connor Jorgensen happened.
Jorgensen, a senior with golden hair flowing underneath his blue helmet, reacted with perfect gusto to a wild pitch that bounced just far enough away from Buchanan catcher Zach Presno, sprinting and sliding safely in a pile of dust in the top of the sixth inning en route to a 2-1 win over the rival Bears to claim the D-I Central Section baseball championship in front of a mad-capped and estimated 1,300 strong at Rawhide Stadium.
“I knew there was going to be enough distance between me and the plate,” said Jorgensen who reached by booming a resounding double to left, then advanced to third on a groundout. “It wasn’t a think – it was just instinct.”
Jorgensen fittingly wants to become a Navy Seal and he’s got the stuff for it: he’s 6-foot-1, athletic, full of aggressiveness, heart and a team attitude.
“He’s an aggressive guy,” said Clovis coach James Patrick. “He’s done it before so it didn’t surprise me when he took off for home.”
Toppling Buchanan was no easy mission: the Bears had beat the Cougars four straight times during the season, including scores of 9-3 and 8-1 during league. Buchanan also came in 28-3, ranked No. 3 in the state with two straight Valley titles in their wake and four seniors signed to play Division I baseball.
But the Cougars (25-7-1) weren’t backing down one bit, especially with tough lefthander Darby Tatum starting on the mound – the dude who pitched 3 ⅔ relief three days earlier in their 7-5 extra inning semi-final win at Centennial.
Tatum would rise up and be masterful on the mound, spinning 6 ⅓ innings of strong-willed baseball, only allowing four hits and a third inning home run to right off the bat of sophomore J.D. Ortiz, prompting Patrick to praise: “We were hoping to get four innings out of him, but he just got on a good roll. Tonight he really put it together.”
“They’re a good team and so are we,” Tatum said. “We weren’t going to let them beat us again.”
Clovis got on the board in the first when Buchanan senior starter Hunter Reinke walked Chet Allison to open the game, Tyson Fraser doubled and Mason Grotto singled to left to score Allison. But Fraser was gunned down at the plate by left fielder Jake Renteria before Reinke shut the inning down with two groundouts.
After Tatum’s max 10 innings for the week were up with one out in the seventh inning, Allison took over and struck out Miguel Ortiz and got TJ Fondtain to pop up to third baseman Peyton McNair for the final out, setting off a sea of blue and gold firing from the dugout, hats flung in air, jumping and hollering “We did it!”
“These guys are my brothers,” said Jorgensen. “It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life – that’s the dead truth. This is amazing and a dream come true.”
Patrick, the legendary coach with a 725-247-3 overall record and the winningest baseball coach in Central Section history, now owns eight Valley titles – each one holding a special meaning for him.
“Every game you come out on top – it’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Patrick. “It validates all the hard work we’ve put in. I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“I didn’t know if we were going to win or lose today but I knew our guys were coming to play. I’m just so proud of those guys because this is what high school sports is all about. Kids developing friendships at young ages and caring about each other and learning how to be a team – they’ve taught me more about winning than I could ever teach them.”