Boogaard: Clovis the class of TRAC baseball -- and of section D-I field

The Fresno BeeMay 9, 2014 

Tevin Mitchell snagged a line drive, the fans rose to their feet and Clovis High baseball coach James Patrick tipped his hat in acknowledgment:

The Grind was over.

This one.

Yes, Clovis beat Clovis West 7-4 on Friday night at Lloyd Merriman Field to capture the Tri-River Athletic Conference title after a grueling 15-game schedule in the tough league.

"The TRAC championship is a cherished prize," Patrick said after winning the 12th league crown in his 27-year Cougars career.

And now The Grind, part II.

That will be the Division I playoffs beginning Tuesday with the certainty that the TRAC heavyweights will duel again.

In fact, the league should represent the Nos. 1-3 seeds in Clovis (30-5), defending D-I champion Clovis North (21-8) and Buchanan (22-7).

Further, an argument could be given for a No. 4 seed for Clovis West (19-10-1) of the TRAC.

But what to do with Frontier of the Southwest Yosemite League?

That will surely be the hottest of hot points Saturday in Porterville for section commissioner Jim Crichlow and his staff as they determine seedings for six baseball divisions in addition to softball and boys' volleyball.

Frontier is 24-6 and the runaway SWYL champ at 13-2. And while the Titans defeated Clovis 3-2 on Feb. 26 on the Cougars' field in the Coca-Cola Classic, they've also lost to Clovis North (7-0) and Buchanan (6-2), and represent a league that went 2-10 against the TRAC.

So, Buchanan has third-seed leverage over Frontier in head-to-head results and strength of schedule -- two key considerations for Crichlow and the boys.

But the Bears -- swept by Clovis North this week -- placed third in the league behind the Cougars and Broncos.

And that presents the burning question: Reward a third-place finisher over a league champ?

Patrick, referring to his seeding paper work turned in to the CIF office this week, says: "I had us 1 and Clovis North or Buchanan 2 and 3. I also had Clovis West 4, but Frontier has a little bit of an argument because they beat us."

And how about this kicker for Frontier? It's closing the season without coach John Moncier, who was suspended recently for a confrontation with an umpire.

Clovis, meanwhile, has its first 30-win season since going 32-2 and 33-2 in mythical national championship years of 1997 and '98.

Three of the Cougars' wins this season came while placing second in the National High School Invitational in Cary, N.C.

"The TRAC in my opinion is the best conference in the nation," said Mitchell, a junior second baseman who drove in four runs against Clovis West with a double and triple. "And I say that after what we saw in North Carolina."

Mitchell's hitting .363 and tied with sure first-round major league draft choice Jake Gatewood for the team lead with 28 RBIs.

The Cougars are solid 1 through 9 in the lineup, play defense as well as any in the section and have several good pitchers, featuring McCarthy Tatum, who improved to 10-1 Friday.

But they're not bullet proof in large part because they lack a shutdown, power arm, evident in part that Tatum -- a future Fresno State infielder -- gave up 10 hits to the Golden Eagles in five innings.

Actually, they do have that arm in Gatewood. But he asked not to pitch this season in protection for the draft.

Other teams lined up for No. 1 seeds are County/Metro Athletic Conference co-champion Memorial (D-II), Ridgeview (D-III), Kerman (D-IV), Immanuel (D-V) and Minarets (D-VI).

East Yosemite League titlist Tulare Western (26-5-1) offers strength in D-II, but the Mustangs lost 4-3 to Memorial Feb. 21 in the Coca-Cola Classic.

The columnist can be reached at aboogaard@fresnobee.com or @beepreps on Twitter.

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