Clovis North head coach Jeff Prieto has seen his team make plenty of late-game comebacks. He’s even called them the “cardiac kids” once this season, referring to the Broncos’ ability to give fans a scare with their flair for the dramatic.
On Monday, the late-game theatrics returned, but the roles were reversed. It was Clovis North trying to hold off a comeback from Prep Baseball Report’s No. 1 team in the state, Buchanan.
The visiting Broncos jumped on Buchanan for three runs in the first inning and, after the Bears tied the game the next inning, scored the go-ahead runs on a sacrifice fly and throwing error in the fourth.
Prieto made a key managerial decision with one out in the fifth inning, turning to his top reliever Collin DeBorde to protect a two-run lead. The junior right-hander twirled 2.2 innings without an earned run to his name, picking up the save in Clovis North’s 5-4 upset of Buchanan.
“It was nice having a little cushion to start the game, instead of waiting for that last at-bat like we’ve done so many times,” Prieto said.
Clovis North saw its first three batters of the game reach base against Buchanan starting pitcher Austin Watson. Rees Kent reached on an error, Jayden Hertel walked, and Derrick Cruz hit an RBI single.
One batter later, Blake King walked and stole second base without a throw. He scored along with Hertel on Cole Fellows’ two-run single, giving the Broncos a 3-0 lead before the Bears came to bat.
Clovis North starting pitcher Nathan Lucas retired Buchanan in order in the first, but surrendered a Drew Smith home run to lead off the second. The Bears loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch, and Austin Young tied the game at 3 with a two-out, two-run single.
Buchanan had faced — and overcome — similar deficits to league opponents earlier this month. They ran into a three-run deficit against Clovis and Clovis West before staging comeback wins in each game.
But instead of faltering late like other TRAC teams have against the Bears this season, Clovis North stayed loose and remembered Prieto’s message at practice from a few days ago.
“All I said was, ‘Look guys, for the rest of this year, I want you to play free and easy,’” Prieto said. “There’s no pressure on us at all. [Buchanan] is the number one team in the state. Nobody’s beat them in league. All we can do is go out there, play our game, and do what we do.”
Nick Shows led off the fourth with a walk, moved to third on a Kent single and scored on Hertel’s sacrifice fly. Smith’s throwing error scored Kent all the way from first base, ending Watson’s night and giving Clovis North a 5-3 lead.
Buchanan got a run back in the bottom of the fifth. Lucas walked the lead off batter, Young, on four pitches. After a long fly ball out by Acosta, Prieto called upon DeBorde to face Buchanan’s heart of the order.
Before DeBorde recorded an out, he made a throwing error on a pickoff attempt to first base, allowing Young to reach third. Max Bernal drove him in with an RBI groundout.
“That’s just baseball, you know, stuff happens,” DeBorde said. “You make an error, and you have to flush it out after that, be selfless and think about your team. That’s what I think about, getting my team in and out.”
After Smith hit a triple, DeBorde benefited from solid defensive play at first base by King, who made a sliding stop of a ground ball and dove into first base for a called third out.
DeBorde allowed one more hit in his final two innings of work. He struck out Jayden Mandal with the tying run in scoring position to end the sixth and fanned Bernal to end the game.
In a tense final inning, with the Broncos in an unfamiliar spot of staving off a comeback instead of making one, DeBorde was staying loose.
“I remember walking up to the mound and seeing the lights and hearing the people in the stands,” DeBorde said. “I smiled to myself and it was like, ‘This is it. This is why I play the sport. This is why I love the game.’”
Clovis North (18-7, 9-4 TRAC) snapped Buchanan’s (22-2, 11-1 TRAC) 16-game winning streak and delayed the Bears’ coronation as outright league champions. Buchanan can still clinch an outright league baseball title with a win in any of its final three regular-season games.