In the CIF Central Section Division I baseball final, history books need to be consulted after Buchanan of Clovis (30-1) defeated Clovis North in a matchup of top five state-ranked teams. The Bears, ranked No. 1 in the state, have wrapped up the final No. 1 ranking but announcement of State Team of the Year will have to wait until next Monday.
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In the pantheon of the many end-of-the-year statewide honors handed out by Cal-Hi Sports, three of them arguably hinged on what happened in Tuesday’s CIF Central Section Division I baseball championship between Buchanan of Clovis and Clovis North of Fresno held at Visalia’s Rawhide Park.
It turned out all right for Buchanan, which came into the night at No. 1 in the state and No. 1 in one national poll (USA Today) and blanked state No. 4 Clovis North 4-0 to put the finishing touches on a 30-1 record.
If Buchanan had been upset, the result would have given state No. 3 De La Salle of Concord a shot to be No. 1 in next week’s final rankings. The Spartans (25-3) won in their section semifinal on Tuesday while No. 2 JSerra of San Juan Capistrano did not.
Buchanan and De La Salle also are among the leading contenders to be State School of the Year. If Buchanan had lost and DLS ended up No. 1 in baseball, instead of the Bears having two No. 1 teams in the state (they won the team title in last March’s CIF state wresting finals) then it would be the Spartans having two (they of course won again last December in the CIF Open Division football finals). Those compilations for both schools will continue along with any others over the next month.
Then there’s the third major honor that was in play on Tuesday and that’s the one for Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year. In some years, that choice has come down to the final inning of the final game – think of Tyler Matzek of Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo) vs. Matt Hobgood of Norco in 2009 – and this year Buchanan’s Grant Gambrell did his part to finish strong by striking out 10 batters in pitching the shutout of the Broncos.
Gambrell, who also has been among Buchanan’s top hitters all season and who has committed to Oregon State, gave up a single to Clovis North leadoff hitter Matt Fraizer in the top of the first inning, but the next hit didn’t come until the sixth inning. He would have had a three-hitter, but the Broncos strung together two hits with two outs in the top of the seventh before the game ended on a force out at second base.
“This is just awesome,” said Gambrell, who only allowed seven earned runs on the mound all season in going 12-0. “I got to play with all of my friends since we were eight years old and it’s been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Buchanan scored three times in the bottom of the first to give Gambrell and his teammates the early edge. With one out, walks to J.T. Arruda and Gambrell and a single by Quentin Selma loaded the bases. Catcher Zach Presno (one of four Bears who have committed to Fresno State) then drilled a line drive into the left field corner to plate the first two runs. Chris Lopez then hit a fly ball to right field that was deep enough to score the third run of the inning for a sacrifice fly.
“I think when we scored early the kids relaxed and we were able to take a deep breath,” said Buchanan head coach Tom Donald. “We knew Grant could pitch at the level we needed.”
The Bears added another run in the third inning. Selma was on first base after being hit by a pitch when Presno hit another line drive, this one into left-center field. It went as a single, but the ball got by Clovis North leftfielder Noah Haupt for an error, which enabled Selma to race around third and score.
“With him (pointing at Gambrell) we knew the game was over to be honest with you after the first inning,” Presno said.
“It’s just been a lot of hard work to do this,” he continued. “We tried to stay grounded as everything was happening and we stayed on top through the end.”
In finishing 30-1, Buchanan also became just the 10th team in CIF Central Section history since 1915 to win a section title in any division and finish with just one loss, according to CIF Central Section historian Bob Barnett.
The only one of those 10 that also ended as State Team of the Year was Bullard of Fresno (29-1) in 1988. The Knights also are on that list for going 31-1-1 in 1977, but that team wasn’t No. 1 in the state in favor of 29-1 Edgewood of West Covina.
Five years ago, Buchanan ended 30-2 and was State Team of the Year in addition to being the ESPN FAB 50 mythical national champion. This year’s team came about as close to being unbeaten as one can get since it ended up beating the only team it lost to, Clovis North, three times.
“Yes, that one win did give us some confidence,” said Clovis North head coach Chris Patrick. “Our game plan just didn’t work out. I’m still proud of my guys because we came back this season after only winning 13 games last season.”
“We knew that if we lost this game that we’d have been 2-2 with them,” said Gambrell, who did not pitch in that one loss. “This proves we were the better team.”
And perhaps the better team than any other in California this season.