Spring is in the air and that can mean only one thing – baseball is here. America’s pastime: spitting seeds, bleacher sitting in the sun, baseball caps, the crack (or ping) of the bat – surely some of my favorite things.
With spring in the air and March on the calendar, it also signals the beginning of Tri-River Athletic Conference baseball, largely considered one of the top leagues in the state. If there is a theme so far this season, it certainly is that runs matter. The thunder and power of the days of yore has been replaced by good ol’ fashion pitching and defense, which can spell only one thing: there’s gonna be some tight games this year during the 15 game league schedule.
And just how good has the TRAC been over the years? Consider the facts: a Clovis Unified school has made the D-I Valley championship game the last 18 years, winning 13 with Buchanan leading the way with six and Clovis five. In addition, there have been numerous players who have gone on to college and the pros, most notably Clovis’ Jacob Gatewood in 2014, the No. 30 pick in the MLB Ametuer Draft.
While talent has certainly flowed throughout the years, this season promises to a great one as well. Go ahead and take a peek into each team competing for a league and Valley title.
Clovis West (10-2)
Head coach: Kevin Patrick (11th year)
Valley titles: (2004)
Players to watch: Rodney Wright (SR, OF), Kohl Simas (SR, 1B, P), Dusty Schramm (SR, P), Nick Castro (SR, P), Chase Prieto (SR, 2B), Karson Simas (JR, SS)
Quick hits: The Golden Eagles have been primed for the 2018 baseball season, a team loaded with veterans – and they have certainly delivered. Look no further than the pitching, led by a trio of seniors in Nick Castro, Kohl Simas and Dusty Schramm. Castro is 5-0 with an ERA of zero and Simas 1.18 with 35 strikeouts in 23 innings. Schramm, a Utah State football commit as a linebacker, is working the end of games and consistently throwing in the low 90s. He was recently offered a baseball scholarship to Fresno State. Center fielders Rodney Wright, a Fresno State football signee, is the catalyst at the top of the lineup and hitting .381 with 14 runs and Simas is batting .378 with 15 RBIs.
Senior second baseman Chase Prieto is hitting .379 with a team-leading 14 runs scored and 10 RBIs and Kohl Simas is hitting .378 with 15 RBIs and six doubles.
Head coach Kevin Patrick praises his pitching and defense and says they have been “outstanding” through the first 11 games of the season.
Coach: Tom Donald (21st year)
Valley titles: (2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016)
National titles: (2011, 2016)
Players to watch: Jake King (JR, P), Brady Hormel (JR, SS), Miguel Ortiz (JR, OF), Brock Jones (JR, OF), Jake Renteria, (SR, OF), TJ Fondtain (JR, 1B, P)
The question coming into the 2018 season for Buchanan was how do you replace four seniors who are currently playing Division I ball in catcher Zach Presno (Fresno State), shortstop Jamal O’Guinn (USC), third baseman Quentin Selma (Cal) and pitcher Carson Olsen (Cal). That’s a lot of firepower to be sure, but lucky for the Bears they have a talented junior class filled with D-I prospects.
There’s been some growing pains in the early season and have yet to find their No. 1 pitching ace. However, the team still has a star-studded junior class that includes shortstop Brady Hormel, who played second base last year and led the team in batting average, Cal-State Fullerton commit Miguel “Miggy” Ortiz, center fielder Brock Jones, a transfer from Clovis North with multiple D-I offers including Stanford and Miami, and big right hander Jake King. Senior outfielder Jake Renteria and junior pitcher/1B are excellent players as well.
Head coach Tom Donald and his coaching staff are working on molding this group into a contender and team chemistry is shaping up to be a positive. They’ll be as good a bet as anyone to end up at the top of the standings.
Clovis North (9-2)
Coach: Jeff Prieto (1st year at Clovis North)
Valley titles: (2013)
Players to watch: James Bell (SR, C), Garrett Cooper (SR, SS), Riley Cooper (SO, P), Michael Chavez (SR, P), Nick Caviglia (SR, OF)
With a new coach and a couple of transfers who have stepped in to big roles, the Broncos have started off strong evidenced by winning the Coca-Cola Classic in a 2-1 victory over Clovis West. First-year head coach Jeff Prieto, who coached at Central the past five years, says that leadership and chemistry has been great since day one.
The team is led by three-year starting catcher and Oregon signee James Bell and the Cooper brothers, Riley and Cooper, transfers from Kingsburg. Garrett is a slick fielding shortstop who is actually signed to play at Fresno Pacific University as a pitcher. “Little” brother Riley is a big, strong left handed pitcher who doesn’t lack intensity. Riley has offers from Fresno State and Pac-12 schools as well.
Right hander Michael Chavez is flourishing as both a starter and reliever with a good fastball and downward movement and Nick Caviglia is an excellent outfielder who has signed with Utah. Prieto, the grandson of Fresno State coaching legend Bob Bennett, says that sophomore pitcher Blake Asadoor is a lefty with great potential.
Coach: James Patrick (30 years at Clovis)
Valley titles: (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2014, 2017)
Players to watch: Jay Massey (SR, INF), Blake Sodersten (SR, RHP), Darrien Miller (JR, C). Justin Tiger (SR, INF)
Last year Buchanan beat Clovis four times during the season then shocked the Bears in the Valley title game 2-1, winning the school’s eighth section title with a strong group of seniors. This season they’ll trot out a younger less experienced team but a cohesive bunch that works hard at every practice according to head coach James Patrick, the Central Section’s all-time winningest baseball coach.
The Cougars are led senior pitcher Blake Sodersten, a tall righty who threw a no-hit, 10 K, zero walk gem against Tulare Western in the Coca-Cola Classic. Sodersten is joined by junior battery-mate Darrien Miller, a steady catcher who posses a good bat. Jay Massey and Justin Tigler play the infield and Mikey Machado is a talented outfielder hitting .400 this season.
Coach Patrick says this year’s team is working in trying to develop an identity all the while an ongoing responsibility of players and coaches trying to bring out the best.
Clovis East (7-3)
Coach: Ryan Smith (1st year)
Valley titles: none
Players to watch: Jared Aguilar (SR, P), Tyler Parker (SO, P), Casey Durham (SR, 2B), Garret Rose (SO, SS)
Clovis East has a new coach and a new mentality this season, led by two excellent pitchers in senior Jared Aguilar and sophomore Tyler Parker. It’s been a while since the Timberwolves have been a baseball contender in league but with those two pitchers they’re sure to be in every game this year; they combined to have a strikeout to walk ratio of 45 to 5 through the first eight games.
Ryan Smith has stepped into the head coach role after spending two years as an varsity assistant at Clovis East. Along with the two strong pitchers in Aguilar and Parker, senior second baseman and leadoff hitter Casey Durham and sophomore shortstop Garret Rose will be looked upon to help the Timberwolves compete this season.
Like most of the teams in the TRAC this year, pitching and defense are definitely strengths for the Timberwolves. Coach Smith points to the fact they have a great group of seniors that have been instrumental in changing the culture of their program.
Coach: Brad Fontes (1st year)
Valley titles: None
Players to watch: Trent Tompkins (JR, OF), Justin Henry (SR, P), J.J. Ramos (SR, INF)
After going 1-14 in the TRAC last season, Central has turned to a familiar coach in Brad Fontes. Fontes coached at Central from 2007-2013 and was the head coach at Reedley HS for one year (2006) and spent the previous six years as the head coach at Hoover HS (1999-2005) and recently was an assistant at Buchanan. This season the Grizzlies are off to a nice start at 7-2 including an impressive 4-2 win over San Joaquin Memorial.
The Grizzlies have some athletes including Trent Tompkins, a junior outfielder who was also the star quarterback of the Valley championship football team. Pitcher Justin Henry has battled some injuries from football season but when healthy is a good pitcher and infielder J.J. Ramos will be an important part of the team. Sophomore pitchers Isaac Ayon and Ryan Wiltsie are both young and promising.
Fontes states that for the Grizzlies to be competitive they’ll need to find consistency with their young pitchers, consistent execution of the game plan and stay ahead of the game. However, Fontes has been impressed with the level they compete with in practice and games this early season.