On a night when ominous clouds loomed overhead, thunder struck for Buchanan High.
And thunder thy name is Chandler Bengtson.
With a mighty swing of his boom stick the Bears’ hulking first baseman launched a grand slam to dead-center field over the 405-foot sign, sending the Buchanan dugout into a frenzy and jump-starting what is to be known as the Rawhide Redemption.
It was on this same field last year in that Clovis High beat Buchanan for the Central Section Division 1 title game in their final at-bat. Not so this year as the Bears showcased all facets of their game and demolished the Cougars 15-1 in front of 2,000 people at Rawhide Stadium in Visalia.
This was the game the Bears have wanted all year. One that shortstop Levi Zosky has been dreaming about since day one of his senior year. And it was well worth the wait.
“It’s more than I could have imagined it would be,” said Zosky surrounded by teammates and classmates after the game. “We wanted Clovis High this whole time.”
Bengtson’s grand slam gave the Bears a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning off Clovis senior left-hander Zac Whittaker.
“I knew I got all of it,” said Bengtson who credits assistant coaches Jason Donald and Joe Kemp for maximizing his swing potential. “I wanted to stand there and watch it but I knew it was a big field.”
It was between first and second base after the ball finally cleared did he slow from a sprint to a trot, thrusting a Kirk Gibson-esque fist-pump in the air.
Bears head coach Tom Donald who has had a front row seat to The Bengtson Show for the entire year had to shake his head with a simple word about the blast: “Ridiculous.”
But when you score 15 runs and allow only one it’s clearly a team effort. Consider the facts: second baseman Michael Beltran ripped a bases loaded double in the bottom of the fifth inning, Grant Gambrell went 2-3 with a double, lead off hitter Zach Ashford scored three runs and Zosky was gobbling up ground balls as easy as Sunday morning.
Bengtson added an infield hustle RBI single and a ringing opposite field double off the wall for six total RBIs.
And the man on the mound throwing a complete game was senior Connor Loeprich, the pitcher with swagger and a fastball to back it up.
Allowing only three hits, Loeprich was in command all evening. But after getting the final out on a ground ball he was mobbed by rushing teammates near the mound and dislocated his kneecap while at the bottom of the pile. A damper was quickly put on the celebration as he was carted off the field.
But in true warrior fashion, the man they call C-Lo was taking selfies while being wheeled away on the cart and Tweeting out pictures of himself in his new christened Valley championship hat at 12:30 a.m. from his hospital bed. A true gamer and one that Coach Donald loves to death.
“Connor put it all together tonight,” said Donald. “He’s respected by his teammates and coaches alike and carries himself like a veteran. He’s the real deal.”
With the win the Bears (29-4) capped off an amazing season, being one of only two Buchanan teams to win both the TRAC and a Valley title. The other? The 2011 National Championship team. Overall, they have won five Valley titles and end the season ranked No. 17 in the nation.
And Coach Donald, the architect of all this, always deflects attention to his players and assistant coaches.
“This feels great because of the kids. It really is about them and they work that they put in.”