By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
Please forgive me if this sounds like a broken record – Buchanan baseball keeps on winning, and winning, and winning.
The Bears, the defending No. 1 team in the state and nation, continue to put up the wins with stellar pitching, impeccable defense and timely hitting as they sport a perfect 15-0 on the season, including 5-0 through the first round of league play.
Not surprisingly they are Cal-Hi Sports No. 1 team and ranked No. 2 in the nation by Baseball America, USA Today and MaxPreps.
Always rugged is the TRAC, a league some consider the toughest from top to bottom in the nation. League involves 15 games, five games in the first round, then a week against each team with games on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The game always circled on the calendar is against rival Clovis, and this year it was penciled in for Tuesday, March 28 against the Cougars and legendary coach James Patrick, who was on the cusp of tying Mike Noakes as the winningest baseball coach in Central Section history at 708. Clovis at that time was ranked No. 8 in the state.
And true to form, the game was filled with drama as Buchanan continued its winning ways with a come-from-behind 5-4 victory at home highlighted by senior third baseman Quentin Selma’s clutch RBI single in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“Every game in the TRAC is a nail biter and this one lived up to its billing,” said Buchanan head coach Tom Donald. “Both teams were prepared and ready to compete. It wasn’t the cleanest game we’ve ever played against each other but it was still really good high school baseball.”
After Clovis tied the game 4-4 with a Dom Liberta sacrifice fly in the top of the sixth, Jake Renteria, a junior committed to San Jose State, led off the sixth with a single. After two outs, Cal signee Selma smoked a line drive to right for the go-ahead run.
To start the seventh, sophomore Marcelo Sandana walked Connor Jorgensen but another impressive sophomore, Jake King, retired the final three batters in order. Saldana earned the win after relieving senior Hunter Reinke.
“Hunter Reinke pitched really well to keep us in the ballgame,” said Donald. “We didn’t support him very much offensively so he had to be a warrior on the mound and he did just that.”
A crucial moment came in the run tying sixth inning when sophomore first baseman TJ Fondtain snagged a ground ball headed for right field with runners on base that would have given the Cougars the lead.
The Bears are a combined 74-5 in the last two and half seasons and a mind boggling 45-1 since 2016, a team that exemplifies keeping the game simple: make the routine play, put the ball in play with two strikes and throwing low strikes as pitchers.
The team ERA is 1.18 and has struck out 106 in 101 innings. Carson Olson and Reinke have a combined nine wins and sophomores Saldana (a lefty) and King (a powerful righty) have given up one run on the season in 20 total innings.
“I think the reason we have started so great is because we work hard everyday and practice and we leave it all out on the field during games,” said senior shortstop Jamal O’Guinn, who is committed to play at USC next season. “We have had a few close games but we just continue to fight and grind every single pitch regardless the circumstances.”
Earlier in the season in the championship game of the Coca-Cola Classic on March 3, Buchanan beat Clovis behind the pitching of senior starter Olson. The two teams play their weekly series on May 2 and 5.
In the meantime, the Bears will be tested when they travel to Anaheim for the National Baseball Classic during Spring Break, considered one of the toughest high school tournaments in the country, attracting schools from not only California but Nevada, Arizona and Florida. Clovis North is also participating on the tournament.
“We anticipate a very tough tournament down south,” said Donald. “The competition is going to be fierce and we have a target on our back. Our hope is to play well and represent the Central section in a positive manner.”