For the third time this season, the Cougars got a one-run walk-off win over district rival Buchanan, but this time it decides the CIF Central Section Division I title and stamps them as a big-time contender to be the 2014 State Team of the Year. Minarets also takes Division VI title and could be No. 1 in the state in its division.
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As far as senior leaders go, Alan Crowley of the Clovis High baseball team is about as good as they get.
It was therefore extra-special for longtime Clovis head coach James Patrick that Crowley, a catcher who will play next at Washington State, was the one who came through with a solid line drive single in the bottom of the seventh inning that gave the Cougars a 3-2 win over Buchanan of Clovis for the CIF Central Section Division I title.
“He’s been a captain, leader from day one,” said Patrick, who has now directed Clovis to seven section titles since the first one in 1995. “It was just a fun night and a fun way to win. They are just a team that fights us hard every time we play.”
The game-winning rally before a crowd of more than 1,400 at Visalia’s Recreation Park (home of the Single A Visalia Rawhide) began with one-out on a walk to McCarthy Tatum, another of the Clovis senior leaders. Tatum moved to second when the team’s biggest standout, shortstop Jacob Gatewood, walked while seemingly being pitched to very carefully. Those two runners then moved up on an errant throw into centerfield on a pick off play.
As soon as Crowley’s bat cracked the ball, it looked destined for a hit and with Tatum on third all that was left was for Clovis to celebrate.
With the win, Clovis finished 33-5 on the season. Patrick agreed that while this year’s team didn’t end with the same kind of record that the 1997 and 1998 teams he had that finished No. 1 in the state it was as talented as any that he’s had and that the competition it faced was arguably better.
For the Cougars to end No. 1 in the state, however, they are going to need some help. Rancho Bernardo of San Diego will still be in that spot in next week’s state rankings at 28-3 after another 3-0 week.
The Broncos will now look to the CIF San Diego Section Open Division playoffs where they could lose one game and still win a section title since San Diego has a double-elimination format. Even if Rancho Bernardo were to lose a game and still win its section title, it would have a superior record to Clovis and would likely still be ranked No. 1 in the final state rankings.
One of the teams that Rancho Bernardo may have to face in its bracket, however, is Cathedral Catholic, which is led by possible MLB No. 1 draft pick Brady Aiken. That draft will take place before the San Diego Section finals so Aiken along with Rancho Bernardo catcher Alex Jackson could actually play against each other after going high in the first round.
Gatewood also is expected to be chosen in the opening round of that draft and on the final chance he had as a high schooler in the top of the seventh inning he had to go to his knees, make a diving stop and threw out Buchanan’s Aaron Arruda on a hard grounder up the middle.
After Buchanan was denied with runners in scoring position in its first, second and third at-bats, including one on a leadoff triple in the third by Trenton Kemp, the Cougars broke through with two runs in the bottom of the third.
With the bases loaded on walks, R.J. Hartman hit a ringing shot down the left field that went for a double and scored two runs. The Cougars still had runners at second and third with one out, but could not score again.
Buchanan cut the lead to 2-1 in the top of the fourth without getting a hit. Two walks put runners on, then they moved up on a double steal. The run then scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Beltran.
The Bears tied the score at 2-2 in the top of the fifth. A tough fly ball to right that was ruled an error (but could have been a double) brought Korby Batesole to second base. He then scored on a two-out RBI double by Ross Dodds.
“As I told you at the beginning of the season, we didn’t have a shut down pitcher,” Patrick said. “We had a lot of combinations, like tonight with our lefty (Preston Mott) and then we were able to come in with (Cody Murray). Player for player, this is definitely one of the most talented teams we’ve had.”
Buchanan’s pitcher, Michael Bono, did his part to hold down the Clovis offense as well. It was just not meant to be for the Bears.
In the other CIF Central Section baseball final played Saturday that had statewide rankings implications:
Minarets (O’Neals) 3, Farmersville 2
Coach Don Watkins was ready to take on the world after the Mustangs survived a crazy seventh inning to win the first section title in school history.
“We teach the kids not to fail by playing big schools all the time,” said Watkins, whose squad topped 3,300-student Schurr of Montebello at a tournament in San Diego. “We can compete with anybody. I would play Clovis right now if we could.”
Entering the seventh, Minarets was leading 2-0 and pitcher Sam Torres was mowing down batters right and left. Farmersville’s only two runners got aboard on walks and both were picked off. Torres had struck out 12 of the previous 14 batters he had faced and had a no-hitter.
But leadoff hitter Jesse Hernandez squashed all of the no-hit talk with a solid line-drive leadoff single in that top of the seventh. Isaiah Hernandez followed with another single and Watkins then took out Torres and put in Chance Carter. The next batter struck out, but Carter then unleashed a wild throw to first that allowed Jesse Hernandez to score.
After another strikeout, Sam Metcalf then hit a soft liner to short that was misplayed for an error that scored Isaiah Hernandez with the tying run. Farmersville’s rally then died on a fly out by pitcher Greg Torres.
In the bottom of the seventh, Metcalf was in to pitch for Farmersville and was greeted immediately by a booming shot to right-center by Cedar Robertson that went for a triple. With the Farmersville defense pulled in and one outfielder playing in the infield, Jordan Christian then won it for Minarets by hitting a fly ball to right. Robertson scored easily.
Minarets (28-5) was ranked No. 1 in the most recent Division V state rankings, but must still wait two weeks for the final rankings to be released. It’s doubtful a change would be made at the top, but Head-Royce of Oakland (17-4) has been stellar all season as well.