By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
Braving the elements is not an issue for basketball. You have the controlled environment (the temperature can be controlled by a simple push of the thermostat) and the roof overhead for protection. I enjoy this much more than the shivering cold of a soccer game and those late season football games. I remember the boys Buchanan soccer Valley title game two years ago when it was raining so hard a canopy was uprooted and flew right past me. I might have seen the Wicked Witch of the West riding her bike in a swirling wind. This past winter, I quite often arrived at a basketball game sporting a jacket only to take it off after sitting, revealing a Star Wars t-shirt or a collared shirt if I want to appear more professional. Ah yes, comfort is king.
Now as we are approaching spring sports, take a look outside and what do you see? Well, first of all, you’re probably inside looking out your window because the elements are forcing you to watch Netflix. Now, don’t get me wrong, this rain is a good thing, it’s getting out of this drought, but it’s reeking havoc on our outdoor sports like baseball, softball and track and field.
If your baseball or softball field doesn’t have the super-ultra-primo drainage system, you’re most likely throwing bullpens and taking cuts inside a cage until the sun comes out to play.
And when it does – let the games begin. In the meaning, we’ll be waiting with baited breath.
Buchanan baseball ranked No. 3 preseason in nation, No. 1 in state
The accolades for the Buchanan baseball program have been many the past two years: a 59-5 combined record, two TRAC titles, two Valley titles, and last year a biggie as the Bears finished No. 1 in the state and a national No. 1 ranking by USA Today and MaxPreps.
How can you top 29-4 in 2015 and 30-1 last season? Well, every season promises new challenges but the message stays the same from coach Tom Donald’s staff.
“From a coaching standpoint we tell them [the accolades] are nice, a feather in their cap and good for the community,” said Donald. “We tell them to focus on the task at hand. It sounds boring but that’s it.”
Well, meet the 2017 Bears, a team that promises to never be boring and is preseason ranked No.1 by Cal-Hi Sports, No. 2 in the nation by Baseball America and No. 3 by MaxPreps, and a team focused on the task at hand, never resting on the laurels of the past.
“We are not looking back at last year, this is a new team with their own personality, with new leadership,” said Donald recently after rain forced the team inside for batting practice and bullpen sessions. “Granted we have some experience which is helpful but you have to be a little lucky as well.”
First let’s address this “new” team. Gone is All-American Grant Gambrell to Oregon State and his 12-0 pitching record, stellar 0.69 ERA and left-handed power bat. A loss for sure, however, look no further than seniors Zack Presno (catcher), Quentin Selma (third base) and Jamal O’Guinn (shortstop) as the now-appointed leaders of the team.
The Big 3 were all an integral part of last year’s success, playing in some prestigious Area Code games this past summer, and are all signed to big-time college programs: Presno to Fresno State, Selma to Cal and O’Guinn to USC. In fact, they are good enough to be drafted this year.
Leadership is big in Donald’s program (“We go as our seniors go”) and this class has been together for a while, creating that all important chemistry mixed with a blue-collar work ethic.
“We have a lot of talent but we also work hard, too, and have a lot of good character guys,” said Selma, the cannon-armed third baseman who hit .446 hitter last season. “We’ve been playing together since 7th grade and some of us since little league. We are a band of brothers for sure.”
Seniors Hunter Reinke (11-0 in 2016) and Carson Olsen (another Cal signee) will be looked upon to anchor the top of the pitching rotation. Olsen was limited in innings last season due to injury and this past summer pitching coach John Gross changed his arm angle, taking the leap from throwing mid-80s to now touching 90 MPH. Senior Kyle McKinney, who Donald calls “a strike thrower” is also due to see some starts on the mound.
Presno, a defensive wiz at catcher with a powerful, yet compact swing, is chomping at the bit to get on the field and ready to make more Buchanan history.
“It’s our last run with our class, no one at Buchanan has won three Valley titles in a row,” said Presno, also an All-TRAC football player as a running back and linebacker. “But we have to take it one day at a time and enjoy it.”
Donald says sophomore Brady Hormel has the inside track at second base with senior Niko Rossi nipping at his heels and Keenan Wolf has a leg up at first base. Super utility player Chase Rocamora is penciled in at center field but the corner outfield spots are up for grabs.
The Bears are traveling to Anaheim April 10-13 to participate in the National Classic Tournament, considered one of the top high school tournaments in the nation. Clovis North is also scheduled to participate. League starts March 17.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch them progress on a weekly basis,” said Donald, in his 19th year as the Buchanan coach. “I think there’s a lot of potential with this team but a lot of things have to happen for us to have a solid year.”
The pieces are certainly in place for another magical year in Bear Nation.
Clovis girls soccer coach Vanessa Black breaks down season
The Clovis girls soccer team has had a mighty fine season with a stellar 17-3-2 record, sharing the TRAC title with Buchanan at 7-3. They won their last four games of league (while Buchanan lost their last three) then bulldozed Clovis West 3-1 to open playoffs on Feb. 16. Just two years ago head coach Vanessa Black took over and faltered to an 0-10 league season before quickly turning the program around and reaching the Valley title game last year before falling to Clovis East.
I caught up with coach Black and she was kind enough to offer some insight into the Cougars season so far …
How exciting was it to win a share of the TRAC title with Buchanan?
I can’t put it into words how exciting it has been to have a piece of the crown in league this season. It’s been motivating to see our program turn around. The girls on the team have worked extremely hard on and off the field. To finally see it all come together is truly a blessing.
What does it say about the character of this team to never give up during league, especially after the 1-0 loss to Clovis North on Jan. 27?
It’s always tough to lose, especially against great teams. Clovis North and everyone in our league is competitive – that’s what makes it so fun and interesting. Knowing the competitiveness and level of play of our league, no team is ever out of the fight. The character and desire to win on this team is truly amazing to witness. This is my 3rd year coaching this program and it has been remarkable to see it all transform. My first year we were 0-10 in league and we could not win a game. It was a learning experience and I had to change the dynamics of the program all together. Last year, we finished 2nd in league and were runner up in the Valley Championship. Going into this year, the girls believe they can and show no fear.
What players have really stepped up for you in the recent weeks and what have they done on the field to impress?
This season, I have been fortunate to have a very talented group of girls to coach combined with an amazing coaching staff (Jon Howerton and David Selecky). Every single person on my roster has contributed to all the success we had this season. Stacia Williams, Sierra Corner, and Elyana Dittmann are the captains of this team and have truly blossomed into outstanding leaders. Stacia leads the league in goals. She has total of 16 in season play with 4 assists. Sierra is tied in assists in league play with 11. Elyana has contributed by holding and being the leader in our defensive line and by helping 11 shutouts.
Regarding the Clovis West playoff win and the playoffs in general, what did you team learn from last year’s championship game loss to Clovis East and how do you think your team will take what they learned the rest of this year’s playoffs?
After winning last night against Clovis West (Feb. 16), the girls are excited and humbled to be advancing to the semifinals. After falling short to Clovis East in the Valley Championship last year, it left a hunger in the girls that carried over to this year. It gave them the will to want to win and truly made them believe in themselves. Playoffs last year gave us the confidence we needed to go into this year. In every preparation before games, we go in with the mindset of respecting our opponent and solely focus on the match in hand before thinking ahead. This is a tremendous group of girls and I couldn’t be happier for our team.
TRAC baseball and Clovis’ James Patrick approaching milestone
While the rain pushed back the start of the the baseball season for most teams, Clovis High found some sunshine and two early season wins in beating Edison 6-1 on Feb. 15 and Bullard 10-1 on Feb. 18 in the Coca Cola Classic.
The opening game against Edison was played in memory of former Tiger and Fresno City star athlete Deondre “Day Day” Howard who was tragically killed in a shooting in August of 2015, and whose murder is still unsolved. The game was played at Fresno City College.
In the 6-1 win, Cougars’ Darby Tatum went four innings allowing two hits and one run while striking out six. Clayton Alexander went hit a double with two RBIs, Trevor Hartman blasted a triple and an RBI and Mason Grotto went 2-4 with two RBIs.
In the 6-inning mercy rule against Bullard, Cougars’ pitcher Chet Allison went five innings and allowed only two hits while Hartman went 3-4 with a single, double and triple and added an RBI.
With the two wins to start off the season, Clovis head coach James Patrick now has 697 and is inching closer to the all-time leader in career baseball wins at 708 held by Mike Nokes.
Clovis West, another TRAC team loaded with talent, blasted Hanford West 13-1, filling the stat sheets in the process as Nick Falco got the victory and was backed with the hitting of DJ Schramm (3-3, 3 2B, 3 RBIs), Blake Schafer (2B 3 RBIs), Rodney Wright (2 RBIs), Kohl Simas (2-3, 3B).