Photos by Nick Baker
By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
In playoff-type atmosphere where every pitch was thrown with conviction and every at-bat was approached like it was the last one on Earth, Buchanan stood tall with business-like precision and execution in beating Clovis North 7-0 and 5-1 in their two-game series to wrap up a title that some believe is the toughest high school league in the nation.
The state’s No. 1 ranked team by Cal-Hi Sports and nation’s No. 3 ranked team by USA Today improved to 27-1 overall and 14-1 in TRAC, showing why they are the greatest show on grass.
Clovis North is no slouch either and came in ranked No. 3 in the state with a sparkling 22-4-1 record and two fine starting pitchers in Michael Williams and Brett Walker.
But, combining solid defense (namely third baseman, Quentin Selma, shortstop Jamal O’Guinn and second baseman JT Arruda), fantastic at-bats and superb pitching, the Bears overwhelmed the Broncos in the two-game series behind the stout pitching of Grant Gambrell and Hunter Reinke. As a team, the Bears pounded out 25 hits while only allowing eight in the two-game series.
Gambrell, who is in the running for national player of the year, returned from a slight forearm strain to throw five shutout innings in the first game and Reinke did one better by throwing a complete game five-hitter. Each pitcher improved to a remarkable 10-0 on the season.
And head coach Tom Donald knew the importance of the game – the only blemish on their record was at the hand of the Broncos, a 12-5 game Donald called embarrassing. A Tuesday night loss at Broncos stadium would have meant a do-or-die game on Thursday.
“I’m proud of the kids tonight, it was business as usual,” said Donald after the Tuesday game. “They didn’t let the situation get too big for them.”
The Tuesday game also marked the return of Gambrell, who missed two starts. He called the atmosphere awesome and relished the simple fact of getting on the mound and competing.
“As a coach it’s comforting to watch someone of Grant’s statue on the mound,” continued Donald about Gambrell, who also sports a batting average of .368 with five home runs and 31 RBI. “You feel like you have a chance to win and the kids are confident as well. He is a tremendous talent.”
Also talented is his pitching mate and weekend fishing buddy Reinke. On senior night, the junior threw his own gem but not without a little drama tacked on at the end. The Broncos started the seventh inning with two straight hits, which prompted a visit from Donald, usually a sign of a pitching change. Catcher Zach Presno even shook the hand of Reinke.
Then the exchange went like this:
“You have one more inning in you?”
“Yes I do.”
Three simple words that spoke volumes. Reinke settled down, getting a fly out, a fielder’s choice and ending the game on a strikeout.
Not lost was the stellar play of Presno, a junior who blasted his fifth home run of the season in the bottom of the fifth inning to make the game 5-1. When speaking of his blast over the left-center fence, the Fresno State commit showed the uncanny ability to recall the exact pitch sequence and his approach on every pitch.
He also points to the tight-knit group that has become a staple of Buchanan baseball as a major factor in this team’s success.
“This group just grinds and stay after you – it’s their personality,” said Donald. “They fight and there’s a lot of pride but we’re not yet finished.”
The Bears look to keep it rolling as they enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed with the Central Section championships set for Tuesday, May 31 at Visalia’s Rawhide Stadium.