Photo by Nick Baker – The Buchanan Bears (30-1) celebrate after beating Clovis North 4-0 at Visalia’s Rawhide Park and winning the D-1 Central Section championship. The Bears also end the season as the No. 1 on Cal-Hi Sports rankings and No. 1 in the nations by MaxPreps and USA Today.
By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
Finally, after last out was recorded in the final win of a magical and extraordinary season, Buchanan could talk about the elephant in the room.
Or should we say the Bear on the field.
They had just completed one of, if not the greatest baseball season, in Central Section history after beating Clovis North 4-0 in the D-1 Valley championship game in front of 2,500 people at Visalia’s Rawhide Park and coach Tom Donald finally lifted the embargo that everyone but themselves had been talking about for months: Buchanan is the best in the land.
Let that sink in a bit – the best high school baseball team in the entire United States of America is right here in good ol’ Clovis.
After grinding out a 30-1 record and 14-1 league record, the Bears can now bask in the glory of a Cal-Hi Sports top state ranking and the best there is – a No. 1 national ranking by MaxPreps and top billing on both of USA Today’s rankings.
“This is a great feeling but it’s all about the kids and their hard work throughout the season,” said Donald after winning the school’s sixth Valley title. “We didn’t talk about the rankings until after the game. We were just concentrating on this game and the guys stepped up.”
No doubts there; the boys in blue and red have been stepping up all season, culminated by the baddest dude around in Grant Gambrell, who entered the game as a top candidate for Cal-Hi Sports Player of the Year. The senior pitcher with the golden arm took the bull by the horns and threw a complete game five-hit shutout, striking out ten in the biggest game of the year on the brightest stage.
Gambrell ended the year with video-game type stats: a 12-0 record, 0.69 ERA, 71 Ks, and 0.63 WHIP.
And how to describe the feelings of that final out, a grounder and force-out by second baseman J.T. Arruda, Gambrell’s best friend since they were seven years old.
“Relief, excitement, so many words come to mind,” said the 6-foot-4, 225 pound Gambrell who was consistently throwing between 92-93 MPH on the night. “It’s absolutely amazing and everything I imagined it would be.”
In fact, before he fell asleep the night before, the last thought swirling in his mind was “we are going to win.”
But, it wasn’t such smooth sailing in the first three innings for the potential high MLB draft pick and Oregon State signee as the Broncos (the only team to beat the Bears on the season) loaded the bases in the third on two walks and a hit batsman. Gambrell then got Jacob Boele to bounce back to the mound to end the threat.
And then it took some tough-love encouragement from assistant coach Jason Donald to get Gambrell to go next level.
Donald, who is a former Major League Baseball player, won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics as starting member of the United States national baseball team, and a Buchanan alumni chided: “You’re the man, no one is going to hit you. Just trust yourself.”
When Jason talks you best listen.
And Zach Presno, hit battery mate all season, saw the transformation first hand.
“He’s a fighter, instead of backing down he stuck his chest out and went after them (Clovis North),” said Presno. “He was going all seven innings no matter what.”
The Bears took pressure off themselves by scoring three runs in the first inning, highlighted by Presno’s two-strike, bases loaded double down the left field line off Broncos starter Michael Williams, plating Arruda who had walked and Quentin Selma who had singled. Chris Lopez then hit a sacrifice fly for the 3-0 lead, a lead they would never relinquish.
“The No. 1 ranking hasn’t sunken in yet, I watched that 2011 team win the national championship and I never thought I’d be here,” added Presno while celebrating with coaches, teammates, parents and classmates beyond the center field fence after the game.
And how about this scary thought for the Central Section and the rest of the state next year – the Bears return a core group that includes shortstop Jamal O’Guinn, third baseman Selma, catcher Presno (all Fresno State commits) and Oregon bound pitcher Hunter Reinke who went 11-0 on the season.
In the meantime, look for the Buchanan brass to start digging two more post holes past the left field fence at Bear Diamond for that newly minted sign – joining the 2011 team as the greatest in the land – the 2016 edition of the Mighty Bears.