Hanford High pulled off a comeback to highlight in the Central Section history books Thursday, piecing together a five-run rally in the top of the seventh to beat host Clovis North 8-7 and repeat as Central Section Division III champions.
Hanford trailed 7-3 to start the seventh inning when coach Tim Scott pulled his players together, quieted them and told them they could win.
Hanford's Brayden Sanchez began the spree with a double, Dalton Silva followed with a single and Preston Scott delivered a three-run homer to straightaway center field. A few batters later, Zack Raeber kept things going by driving in the tying run with a single to left-center field.
Connor West came through with the game-winning hit: a grounder to left field that scored Michael Conway from third base.
"It's amazing," West said. "I was getting real nervous. Once we got that seventh run I kind of relaxed and waited for that fastball and hit it."
The title is Hanford's 11th, but its second since 1994. Scott, a former major leaguer who prepped at Hanford during its glory years in the '80s, is a second-year coach who led the Bullpups to a title win over Madera South last season.
Said Scott: "I'll rank this one right here, especially with the way we came from behind, with any moment I've had ever in the big leagues. I was more nervous going into this game then I ever was anytime I took the mound in the big leagues."
Clovis North, in just its second year of varsity baseball and without a senior on the roster, came into the game ranked sixth in the state in Division III by Cal-Hi Sports. The Broncos (28-5) rolled to start the game, scoring four first-inning runs.
After the Bullpups (22-7-1) closed to 4-3 in the fifth, Clovis North's Brandon Renwick hit an RBI double to center and was followed by Wilson Ashford's two-RBI bloop double down the right-field line that made it 7-3.
Hanford's Brandon Putnam came in to pitch for starter Dalton Silva after that. Putnam threw around 100 pitches in the Bullpups' 6-2 semifinal win over rival Hanford West on Tuesday. But with key starter Gage Dominguez serving a one-game suspension after being ejected in that rival game, Putnam was needed. Tim Scott found the pitcher willing and able.
"I know how it is as a pitcher to tax your arm like that," Tim Scott said. "That's why I made sure to ask him how he felt today. ... He gave me the green light. He's been our horse pretty much all year. I figured I'd give him a ride one more time."
The horse struck out six in 2 2/3 innings.
"This is the greatest feeling," Putnam said. "This year I'm a part of it and it feels so great to help my team win this thing."
West said the theme that arose from this season was "never give up." After a 1-4 start in league play, they've seen adversity. Through it all, though, that theme rang true and did again Thursday.
"We started off slow," Preston Scott said. "It was tough times with a couple guys getting into it. We just came together as a team and persevered.
"Give God all the credit. Without him we're nothing."