Despite the talented Buchanan baseball teams of the past decade — and that includes two national champions — the Bears had not won a Fresno Easter Classic since 2010.
That can be chalked up to tough competition, bad luck with tournament tiebreaker rules or a mixture of the two. The Bears didn’t even play in the Easter Classic for four seasons during that stretch.
Winning the Easter Classic required the perfect confluence of talent and luck — and it all came together Wednesday night for the Bears.
Buchanan erased an early three-run deficit to score five in the bottom of the first, jumpstarting the Bears to defeat tournament hosts Fresno High, 10-3, in the Fresno Easter Classic championship game.
“We got punched in the face a couple times in the tournament and responded,” said Buchanan head coach Brad Fontes.
Josh Williams led the way for Buchanan with 4 RBIs against Fresno, earning him co-tournament MVP. The UCSB commit said the Bears were aggressive at the plate, hunting for fastballs or anything in the strike zone to turn into a hit.
Buchanan finished Wednesday night with 13 hits, five of them extra-base hits. The mark tied the best hitting performance for Buchanan in the tournament.
“[Fresno was] throwing a lot of off-speed, but when we got our fastballs, we were dominating,” Williams said.
Before Buchanan came to bat, Fresno scored three runs in the top of the first.
After Paul Marshall singled to lead off the game, Kai Young brought him home with an RBI single. The Warriors’ next batter Erick Lopez singled, but Buchanan right fielder Corbin Ybarra overthrew his cut-off man, allowing Young to score.
Lopez advanced to third base on the throwing error and scored on a sacrifice fly by Waldo Rodriguez. Five batters in, Fresno High already had a 3-0 lead over the state-ranked Bears.
“Coming back into the dugout, we were all hyped and ready to bounce back on them,” Williams said.
Starting pitcher Max Bernal helped his own cause in the bottom of the first. The junior lefty roped a one-out double to the right-center field wall, driving in two runs. Then, after Drew Smith singled, Williams hit a two-run double to give the Bears a 4-3 lead.
Fontes lauded WIlliams for his hitting approach after the game, describing him as one of the team’s most important senior leaders.
“You’re as good as your seniors and, granted, our junior class is very talented, but older guys have the ability to slow the game down,” Fontes said. “When your seniors have that ability like Josh has at the plate, that senior leadership is invaluable.”
Jett Ruby extended the first inning by lacing a two-out RBI single into left field, scoring Williams.
After falling into an early hole, Buchanan’s big bats quickly propelled the Bears out of it. A 3-0 deficit turned into a 5-3 lead in a span of less than 20 minutes.
“I think we’ve been there before and there’s seven innings in a game,” Fontes said. “There’s not a lot of panic in these guys, they know they’ve put the work in, and fighting through a little adversity is something they’re used to.”
Bernal shook off Fresno’s three-run first inning by pitching three scoreless frames. Bernal finished the night with four innings pitched, three runs allowed (two earned), no walks and four strikeouts.
Buchanan tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the second inning. Austin Young, who won tournament co-MVP along with Williams, lined an RBI double to the right-center field gap. Smith scored Young with his second hit of the game, a seeing-eye RBI single into left field.
A Fresno error in center field scored Smith and gave Buchanan an 8-3 lead after two innings.
Williams added his second two-run double of the game in the fourth to finish Buchanan’s scoring.
Buchanan pitcher Christian Williams entered the game in the fifth and pitched an immaculate inning — nine straight strikes for three consecutive strikeouts.
Williams kept Fresno off the scoreboard to secure Buchanan’s Fresno Easter Classic title.
“Just the fact that they’re able to come out and play and be part of a historical tournament like this is pretty cool,” Fontes said, “ especially compared to where we’ve been at with all this COVID stuff.”
Buchanan (5-0) went undefeated in the Easter Classic, but almost didn’t make the championship game.
Buchanan narrowly qualified for the title game. They finished the first three Classic games with a 3-0 record, the same as Bullard. The Bears edged the Knights in the tiebreaker — runs allowed. Buchanan allowed eight, while Bullard allowed nine.
There’s been seasons in the past where Buchanan was left out of the title game because of allowing too many runs. But the Central Section’s top-ranked (according to Clovis Sports Report) and the state’s 7th-ranked (Cal-Hi Sports) ballclub made its way into the final with a trio of convincing wins.
Buchanan defeated a top-15 ranked team in the state in San Joaquin Memorial and dominated Edison, 13-0. Then, they survived another early deficit to overcome Hanford on Tuesday, 13-5, displaying a determination amidst adversity that was evident in the championship game.
After playing four games in five days, the Bears will now get a rest before starting the Coca-Cola Classic next Tuesday.
“We’re all looking forward to getting back in the groove of things, getting into the rest of the season and league, and getting ready to hammer some people right now,” Williams said. “We’re ready to go.”
Memorial rallies in comeback victory over Clovis North
Clovis North prides itself on playing its best ball late in games.
It definitely showed when they jumped ahead of San Joaquin Memorial, 4-2, in the top of the sixth inning.
Derrick Cruz hit a sacrifice fly and Blake King followed that up with a home run to left field, staking the Broncos to a two-run lead entering the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I was ready for the first pitch fastball, just ready to go man,” King said of his home run. “I wanted to get that first pitch and see what I can do with it.”
But defensive miscues cost Clovis North a shot at an important resume-building win. The Broncos’ center fielder Hunter Jansen misread a fly ball, allowing San Joaquin Memorial to get a runner aboard with one out. The Panthers put another runner on base, and Charlie Monterrosa drove in both with an RBI double, tying the game at 4.
Clovis North reliever Kyle Jimenez intentionally walked Eddie Saldvar with two outs and Monterrosa on third base, but Seth Gonzalez delivered for Memorial with a two-run double to push the Panthers ahead, 6-4.
Clovis North right fielder Cole Fellows attempted to dive for the catch, but missed the ball, allowing Saldivar to score from first base.
Josh Castro, who gave up the two Clovis North runs in the sixth, pitched a clean seventh inning to record the win.
The Broncos finished the Easter Classic 3-1, with their head coach coming away from the tournament optimistic about the team’s title chances.
“I think that anybody we play in the Valley, we can play tough,” said head coach Jeff Prieto. “I see us as one of those top teams, so we don’t look at a team like Memorial like we have to get over our skis to beat them. We just have to play our game and take care of the ball.”
Ryan Vance contributed an RBI single that tied the game at 2 in the fifth inning. He also pitched four innings as the Broncos’ starter, limiting the Panthers to two runs in the third inning.
Clovis North (3-1) will next play in the Coca-Cola Classic starting Tuesday.
Other TRAC scores:
Clovis West 14, Liberty-Madera 0
Nathan Baeza pitched four shutout innings and struck out six. He also continued his recent tear at the plate, hitting 2-for-3 with a run scored and an RBI. Freshman Tyler Patrick hit 1-for-2 with two RBIs, as Clovis West finished the Easter Classic with a 3-1 record.
Reedley 11, Clovis 10 (8 innings)
Reedley won on a walk-off infield single against the Cougars. The game went back-and-forth all morning, with Clovis building a 3-0 first-inning lead before Reedley stormed back to take a 6-3 lead after three innings.
Clovis tied it in the fourth at 6 and matched Reedley’s scoring until the seventh inning. Jayden Nicholson hit an RBI double to tie the game at 9. Then, Eli Henderson knocked an RBI single to put the Cougars ahead, 10-9.
But Reedley tied the game in the bottom of the seventh inning and walked it off in the eighth. Clovis finished the Easter Classic 3-1 and will host the Coca-Cola Classic next week.
Redwood 3, Clovis East 2
The Timberwolves fell to the Rangers Wednesday to finish Easter Classic with a 1-3 record.
Central 11, Edison 4
Central bounced back from a loss at Bullard to overwhelm the Tigers in its Easter Classic finale. Dallan Alles led Central with two runs scored and an RBI while hitting 2-for-3 in the morning.