Heavy rain, a four-day game delay and a massive two-out rally.
These were the unconventional ingredients for the Clovis High School baseball team’s recipe for victory in the Central Section Division I Championship Game, defeating Frontier High School 14-3.
The game began May 18 at Fresno State’s Beiden Field, but heavy rain forced officials to suspend play, which resumed on May 22 at Clovis High Stadium.
The game on Saturday was a back-and-forth struggle.
After the Titans went up 1-0 in the top of the first inning, the Cougars regained the lead in the bottom, with a single from right fielder Ian Mortenson to bring home two baserunners.
The Clovis bats made things tough for Frontier junior pitcher Kris Anglin, as the Cougars were able to bring home nearly every runner that reached scoring position.
That was the case for junior left fielder Koby Kopf, whose ground-rule double in the first and walk in the third provided two scoring opportunities that the Cougars capitalized on early, helping them to a 3-2 lead after three innings.
On the mound for the Cougars, senior left-handed slinger Zach Jimenez was able to work his way out of some early trouble, as he pitched with runners on base in each of the first three innings.
But some clutch pitches and solid defense behind Jimenez held the Titans to just three runs in the game, as the starter went six innings to notch the biggest win of his high school career.
After a three-up-three-down top of the fourth for Jimenez, the bottom of the inning was when things got interesting.
Anglin recorded the first out of the Cougars’ half of the inning with a strikeout, but the next batter he faced, senior shortstop Justin Tiger, was not ready to go down so quietly. Tiger launched a solo home run that cut through the falling rain and sailed over the left field wall to put the Cougars up 4-2.
The next batter, senior center fielder Carson Evans managed to reach first on a ground ball to the shortstop, but the puddles of rain that had accumulated on the infield dirt made fielding more than a little difficult for the Titans, and Evans was aboard safely.
Play was halted altogether when a pickoff throw to first base missed the baseman, allowing Evans to advance to third.
When the game resumed four days later, Anglin recorded a quick strikeout, and it seemed the break may have gotten to the Cougars.
Three consecutive hits for Clovis put the Cougars in front 7-2. The Titans nearly ended the rally when Mortenson struck out swinging, but a poor throw to first failed to record the third out and the rally continued.
By the end of the fourth inning, the Cougars would score 10 runs — nine of which were scored with two outs — and push their lead to 13-2 after cycling through the entire batting order, as Tiger got a second chance to hit in the inning and delivered a two-RBI triple.
Tiger said the team’s trust in each other was what led monstrous fourth inning rally.
“My team’s amazing,” he said. “Everybody just buys into everything, and we’re all about the team. So when I saw that [rally] start happening, I knew it was going to keep on going because we just knew we can’t let each other down.”
In the top of the fifth, the Titans regained one of those runs against Jimenez for a 13-3 deficit. But Jimenez would not allow another, closing out the fifth and sixth before senior pitcher Josiah Penberthy came in for the seventh to close the game with a quick three outs, the last of which was an over-the-shoulder catch by Kopf in left field.
After the game, Jimenez talked about the team’s preparedness playing in the rain and the importance of the win.
“Every time it rained this year, we practiced. So the coach prepared us for that,” Jimenez said. “[This win] means everything. This team, we’re brothers here. Everyone cares about each other. We care about the coaches, the coaches care about us. It’s a good program.”
Clovis head coach James Patrick spoke about his concern coming back after the game delay.
“It was tough,” Patrick said. “At the end of the game on Saturday when they called it, our guys were sky high. They were so pumped. They had the lead, and we were still at bat. Then they called the game, and I, naturally, was concerned a little bit that maybe we’d lose some of that fire. But we didn’t.”
Patrick, who recently announced his plans to retire at the end of this season after 34 years of coaching, called the fourth inning one he will never forget.