Baseball rules: Your Tri-River Athletic Conference hardball preview

With talent everywhere the TRAC is locked and loaded for a big year

Buchanan senior catcher Zach Presno returns for his third varsity season as a starter and is attempting to become a three-time TRAC and Valley champion. (Photo by Bobby Medellin)

By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor

Imagine facing top-of-the-line pitching twice a week for seven weeks. Picture yourself toeing the rubber 60 feet 6 inches away from some of the most feared hitters up and down the state. You’re a coach in the dugout and you look across the way and see Tom Donald, James Patrick, Chris Patrick, Kevin Patrick, Jeff Prieto or Pat Waer, some of the best coaches you’ll find anywhere.

Well, welcome to baseball in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.

From top to bottom, the TRAC is most likely the most competitive conference not only in California but in the nation. While perhaps not boasting potential MLB first round draft picks like some California schools, pound for pound you’re gonna see some impressive baseball throughout the entire 15 game schedule.

Truth based on facts. Consider:

Buchanan is coming off perhaps the greatest season in Central Section history with a 30-1 record, a state No. 1 ranking and multiple National No. 1 rankings.

The Bears (11-0) are again loaded this season and currently ranked No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 2 nationally by Baseball America, MaxPreps and USA Today.

Clovis is (10-1-1) and ranked No. 8 in the state and head coach James Patrick is well on his way to breaking the Central Section record for career wins. Mike Noakes is 708 … Clovis has won seven Valley titles under Patrick.

The teams were a combined 35-8-2 entering league play that started on March 17.

Since 2001, a school from the TRAC has been in the D-I Central Section championship game every single year, with 12 titles.

Buchanan and Clovis North will both participate in the National Baseball Classic April 10-13 in Anaheim, widely considered one of the toughest high school tournaments in the nation.

When you think TRAC baseball you have to begin with Buchanan, and for good reason – they are the defending national champions crowned by USA Today, MaxPreps and Baseball America. The Bears return more than a few key players from last year’s squad including a trio of senior position players in catcher Zach Presno, third baseman Quentin Selma and shortstop Jamal O’Guinn. All three of these dudes are just as potent with the glove as with the bat and all three are going big-time college baseball with Presno to Fresno State, Selma to Cal and O’Guinn to USC. And for good measure they have a one-two senior pitching punch in Hunter Reinke (11-0 last season) and Cal signee Carson Olson.

With all the praise Buchanan deservedly gets, there will be a big push to knock them off the top, and you bet five teams will be chomping at the bit at the opportunity. Clovis North, Clovis, Clovis West and Central will all tote out impressive starting pitching every game. (Note: after the first five game of league schools will then play each other twice during the week). There are some bashers in the league too such as James Bell of Clovis North, Clayton Alexander of Clovis, DJ Schramm from Clovis West and Mikey Leyva from Central.

League has already started March 17, so here’s a breakdown of each team and be sure to check out a ballpark near you.

Buchanan (11-0), Coach Tom Donald

Valley titles: (2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016)

Players to watch: Zach Presno (Sr., C), Jamal O’Guinn (Sr., SS), Quentin Selma (Sr., 3B), Carson Olson (Sr., P), Hunter Reinke (Sr., P), Kyle McKenney (Sr., P), Brady Hormel (So., 2B), JD Ortiz (So., OF), Miguel Ortiz (So., OF), Jake Renteria (Jr., OF)

Quick Hits: It’s no secret coach Tom Donald has built a dynasty at Buchanan, evidenced by their 70-5 record in the past two years plus. The state and nation know too as they are currently No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the nation by multiple national polls. The team is loaded with seniors but the coaching staff is also impressed with the crop of talented sophomore that are competing a high level including the Ortiz brothers, JD and Miguel, sons of former Oakland A’s and Colorado Rockies second baseman Jose Ortiz and three pitchers in Jake King, T.J. Fondtain and Marcelo Saldana. This new crop of pitchers have already been thrown into the fire and will be needed in Anaheim during Spring Break when they play in the National Baseball Classic. Presno, O’Guinn and Selma form as impressive trio as you’ll ever see in the Central Section. Sophomore Brady Hormel is hitting .500 this season and is an absolutely stellar defensive second baseman. Reinke, Olson form an excellent one-two punch and can each touch 90 MPH, and McKenney, a strike-thrower will see plenty of innings in relief or as a spot starter.

Coach’s take: “The quality of coaches, players, and facilities in the TRAC are impressive. Teams cannot afford to take one game off because if we do then it won’t end well. We love the competitive nature of the TRAC baseball season. It’s a lot of fun to put it all on the line each game.”

Clovis (10-1-1), Coach James Patrick

Valley titles: (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2014)

Players to watch: Tyson Fraser (Sr., OF), Connor Jorgensen (Sr., OF), Chet Allison (Sr., OF/P), Clayton Alexander (Sr.,1B), Mason Grotto (SS), Darby Tatum (Sr., LHP), Dom Liberta (Sr., RHP), Blake Sodersten (Jr., RHP), Darrien Miller (So., C), Justin Tiger (So., INF)

Quick hits: Hey, Buchanan isn’t the only TRAC school to have some national titles as the Cougars can have two of their own in 1997 and 1998 and have one of the greatest high school baseball coaches of all time in James Patrick. The Cougars only loss on the season is a 3-1 setback to Buchanan in the championship game of the Coca-Cola Classic. The state’s No. 8 ranked team has several returning players with experience and leadership qualities which includes a strong pitching staff in Chet Allison, Darby Tatum and Dom Liberta. Last season they were bogged down by offensive woes but not this year – they have speedy outfielder Tyson Fraser, a great glove in Mason Grotto at shortstop and some pop with Connor Jorgensen and Clayton Alexander. They’ll be as good as anyone in the TRAC with sights on their eighth Valley title in the school’s history.

Coach’s take: “Our pitching staff has done a good job and we have a deep competitive lineup. Pitching and defense is always an emphasis and this year’s group has been stellar in those areas.”

Clovis West (6-3-1), Coach Kevin Patrick

Valley titles: (2004)

Players to watch: Nick Falco (Sr., P), Dusty Schramm (Jr., P), Chase Prieto (Jr., 2B), DJ Schramm (Jr., C), Evan Rocha (Jr., SS), Blake Schafer (Sr., DH)

Dusty Schramm, a junior, is one of two Clovis West starters who will toe the rubber for the Golden Eagles this season. (Photo by Bobby Medellin)

Quick hits: Clovis West isn’t a sleeping giant this season, they’re already awake and making waves. Coach Kevin Patrick (yes, the son of James Patrick and the brother of Chris), has a talented squad with some deep pitching this season to compete in the rugged TRAC. Both of their losses in non-league are by scores of 2-1 and have a collective ERA of 1.47. The main reason has been the emergence of number one pitcher senior Nick Falco (3-2, 2.21 ERA, 26 Ks in 20.2 inn.) and juniors Dusty Schramm (1.64 ERA 15:1 K to BB) and Kohl Simas (1.71 ERA). Catcher DJ Schramm (twin of Dusty) leads the offense with a .400 BA, 9 RBIs and a home run and junior second baseman Chase Prieto leads the team with 10 runs scored. Senior Blake Schafer will hit in the middle of the order and star football player Rodney Wright III will patrol center field once again. Junior Evan Rocha has made a smooth transition from the outfield to shortstop this season.

Coach’s take: “Being able to compete in the TRAC is a privilege, one of the best conferences in the state of California. We are lucky to have such great players and coaches in the central valley. The TRAC this year may be as competitive as it’s ever been. Obviously Buchanan wears the target heading into league play but I’ve been impressed with all teams in our league.”

Clovis North (7-3), Coach Chris Patrick

Valley titles: (2013)

Players to watch: Brett Walker (Sr., P), Justin Fuson (Jr., P), Brock Jones (So., OF), James Bell (Jr., C), Brett Jensen (Jr., 3B).

Clovis North junior Justin Fuson has stepped up this season so far for the Broncos on the mound. He’ll look to help get Clovis North back into the Valley championship game after they fell short 5-0 against Buchanan in 2016. (Photo by Nick Baker/RawSportz Media)

Quick hits: The Broncos, who last season placed second in the TRAC and lost to Buchanan 5-0 in the Valley title game graduated 17 seniors but has started off a respectable 7-3. They return one of the top starting pitchers in Brett Walker but the tall righty has only pitched 7 ⅔ innings this season. But stepping up in his stead has been junior Justin Fuson who has sparkling ERA of 0.93 and three wins. Another junior Chase Compolongo is another starting pitcher who could see innings the rest of the way. Sophomore Brock Jones, a standout two-way football player, is patrolling center field and hitting .444 with 12 runs scored early one. Catcher James Bell started last season as a sophomore and is one of the top players in the TRAC and leads the team with eight RBIs. Junior third baseman Brett Jensen leads the team with a .478 batting average.

Coach’s take:  “We always talk about the strength of our league, but this year could be the best it’s ever been from top to bottom. It’s an honor to try to prepare my team for the 15 game grind and get them to show up on a daily basis. We’ll try to keep it simple, control what we control, and focus on winning ‘this pitch.’”

Central (7-2), Coach Jeff Prieto

Valley titles: (none)

Players to watch: Justin Henry (Jr., P), Daiveyon Whittle (Sr., P/C), Mikey Leyva (So., OF), Trent Tompkins (So., OF), Joseph Barajas (Sr., OF), Carlos Rodriguez (Jr., OF)

Quick hits: The fourth year under head coach Jeff Prieto might be the charm for the Grizzlies as they will tote out some impressive starting pitching, matching up well against top TRAC opponents. Junior lefty Justin Henry is averaging 11 strikeouts per game and Daiveyon Whittle can get it up to 92 MPH and, according to Prieto, and could be the school’s third pitcher drafted in the past three years. Attitude and team chemistry is a plus for this year’s team. Sophomore outfielder Mikey Leyva is already being recruited by the likes of Cal State Fullerton and Oklahoma and has six doubles, 2 HRs, 12 RBIs and 10 runs scored. When Whittle isn’t on the mound he’ll be behind the plate and another sophomore, JJ Ramos, is the team’s starting shortstop who plays with a high motor.

Coach’s take: “I think top to bottom though this is the best the TRAC has been in a while. Clovis East is much improved and we are too. After recruiting nationally while I was at UNLV I can tell you that the TRAC has the best coaches and facilities in the country.”

Clovis East (5-5), Coach Pat Waer

Valley titles: (none)

Players to watch: Rylan Greenlee (Sr., INF), Kyler Laramie (Sr., OF), Andrew Rodriguez (Sr., INF/P)

Quick hits: Clovis East has made steady improvement over the years due mostly to the dedication of head coach Pat Waer, focusing on fundamentals. The Timberwolves have steadily improved since going 6-23 in 2013 by compiling a record of 8-24 the following year and 11-17-1 last season. This season they have thrown three shutouts: 5-0 against Edison, 5-0 over San Joaquin Memorial and 8-0 vs Enochs in the Central Valley Showcase on March 11. The Timberwolves feature one of the most feared hitters in the TRAC in 6-foot-2, 205 pound power hitter Rylan Greenlee, who has been slowed this season due to injury. The team will battle every game and won’t roll over for anyone.

Coach’s take: “[We are a] more physical, smarter. Just an older team.”

Paul Meadors
Paul Meadors is a man of many talents. He is a elementary school teacher, Junior High athletic director, and basketball coach in Traver, CA, in addition to serving as the Sports Editor for the Clovis Roundup. He is also the author of the humorous book “Letters to eBay,” and he has recorded a piano album of his own compositions titled “Surviving the Storm.” He lives in Fresno with wife Lori and daughters Georgie, Alex and Ruthie.