Buchanan senior Temo Becerra waited for Friday’s Central Section championship game for most of his baseball career. He wasn’t alone.
“A lot of us have been waiting for this game since 7th grade or so,” Becerra said. “We came out and were excited to play, and we balled out.”
The long wait paid off for the Bears, who tallied 14 hits and slugged five home runs in a 17-4 rout of Liberty (Bakersfield), winning the Bears’ seventh D-I championship and their first since 2016.
Becerra had two home runs and four runs batted in, while junior teammate Max Bernal recorded five RBIs and launched a massive three-run homer in an eight-run second inning.
“I was locked in,” Bernal said. “I was seeing [Liberty’s] pitches well. We all were. Everyone was seeing their pitches well.”
Eight Buchanan starters reached base and scored a run. Seven different starters got a hit and six drove in a run.
“We’re so proud of not only how they played, but how they came together as a team,” said Buchanan head coach Brad Fontes. “The unselfishness, the ability to practice hard every day, and none of these guys really cared who got the credit. They just wanted to win, and it seemed like it was a different guy on different nights, one through nine.”
The temperature at first pitch was 109 degrees on Friday, and the baseball carried well in the hot air.
Buchanan hit three home runs in its big second inning — Drew Smith and Becerra went back-to-back to lead off. After Austin Young’s two-run single and a run-scoring Liberty error, Bernal walloped a hanging breaking ball for a no-doubt three-run homer.
Liberty starting pitcher Brock Slikker exited midway through the second inning, his Patriots trailing 8-0.
Liberty swatted two home runs of its own in the third. Highly-touted junior Cutter Coffey launched a two-run shot to deep center field, and Arizona State commit Jacob Tobias followed that with his own blast, going back-to-back against Buchanan starter Christian Williams.
Williams gave up a pair of hard-hit singles later in the inning, but as he did all evening, the senior right-hander limited the damage to just the longball.
“With Christian, his heartbeat never elevates,” Fontes said. “He gives up a home run and he’s going to make a good pitch to the next batter. [Liberty] is a very offensive team and he did a great job to keep the ball down and keep the runners small, the innings small, and give us a chance to add on and answer back.”
Buchanan answered with six runs in the bottom of the third, highlighted by Bernal’s two-run single and Becerra’s three-run homer to give the Bears a 14-3 lead. Notably, all of the runs were scored with two outs.
The Bears tacked on two more with RBI hits from Sky Collins and Young in the fourth. Liberty’s leadoff batter Brady Reynolds mashed a home run in the fifth, and Evan Wallace responded in the sixth with his own blast — the eighth total of the game — to finish Buchanan’s offensive onslaught.
Williams went 6.1 innings and threw 99 pitches, exceeding any number a Buchanan pitcher has thrown this season. Fontes allowed Williams a chance to finish the game, but pulled him after a one-out single.
“I really wanted to stay in,” Williams said. “I kind of begged [Fontes] to go out. He told me my arm was more important than the complete game, so I respect his decision.”
Sophomore Colton O’Toole entered the game and induced a chopper to Becerra at shortstop, who tossed it softly to second baseman JP Acosta. Acosta turned and fired to Bernal at first base, completing the game-ending double play and kicking off a dogpile celebration a couple feet from the mound.
Postgame festivities included the awards presentation, ice water baths for both Fontes and Becerra, and plenty of pictures and hugs between Buchanan ballplayers.
“Our team chemistry…. we might as well be related on this team,” Bernal said. “We all love each other so much, like we’re all brothers. This is family right here. I’ve never had a bond like this.”
Fontes, who won his first Central Section title as a head coach Friday, said that bond blossomed during the fall of 2019, when the team traveled down South and played “some very good teams.”
“We measured where we were and what we needed to do,” Fontes said. “We had a talk at the end of that fall and I said, ‘If you guys want to be where you want to be, this is what we need to do and this is how we need to do it.’ Everyone committed to that. It started with coming together as a team, and we worked on that as much as we worked on ground balls and hitting.”
Buchanan (29-2) now awaits seeding in the first-ever SoCal Open Division baseball playoffs.
Top hitters — Buchanan
Austin Young, 2/4, 3 RBI, 2 R
Max Bernal, 2/4, HR, 5 RBI, 2 R
Drew Smith, 1/3, HR, RBI, 2 R
Temo Becerra, 2/4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R
Evan Wallace, 3/3, HR, RBI, 3 R
Top hitters — Liberty
Brady Reynolds, 1/4, HR, RBI
Cutter Coffey, 1/4, HR, 2 RBI
Jacob Tobias, 3/4, HR, RBI
Kaleb Dickey, 2/3