There are 16 teams from five states entered in this week’s four-day National Classic, which is billed as one of the premier high school baseball tournaments in the country.
And there’s no question who’s attracting the brightest spotlight in the event staged at three sites in Orange County Monday through Thursday – Buchanan.
“We know full well people will be gunning for us,” says coach Tom Donald of the 17-0 Bears, the consensus No. 1 team in the nation after finishing the same last year.
We know full well people will be gunning for us.
Buchanan baseball coach Tom Donald
Buchanan, top-ranked by MaxPreps Xcellent 25, USA Today Computer and Baseball America, has won 30 straight in two seasons, 42 of its past 43 and 61 of 63.
“We hadn’t talked about this tournament until Friday,” says Donald, whose team is also 7-0 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference. “Now we turn our attention to the tournament and what it means to our program, the TRAC and the Central Valley. We need to represent the area the best we can.”
Clovis North of the TRAC will also play in the 28th-annual tournament co-hosted by high schools from Esperanza-Anaheim and El Dorado-Placentia.
Clovis North (10-6) will open Monday against JSerra-San Juan Capistrano (6-5) at 10 a.m. at El Dorado.
Buchanan will oppose Esperanza at 7:30 p.m. at Cal State Fullerton.
30 Buchanan winning streak in two seasons
With a win, the Bears would play either Bingham-Utah (11-1) or Sunrise Mountain-Arizona (16-3) on Tuesday at 1 p.m. at Esperanza. Bingham and Sunrise Mountain are highly ranked in their states.
For all the glitter and glory, Donald says Buchanan has yet to get hot: “We still have a lot of room for improvement. Pitching and defense has kept us in games, but we can be a lot better offensively.”
Pitching depth is paramount for success in Easter week tournaments, and that has generally favored the Bears in a 19-year Donald career that has seen him go 455-121-4 (.788) with two consecutive Central Section Division I titles and six of the past 12.
Carson Olson is a prime example.
The senior right-hander had an impressive summer, committed to Cal and is 6-0 with a 1.27 earned-run average this season. Yet he pitched only two innings last year for a 30-1 Buchanan team that was carried by Bee Player of the Year and current Oregon State member Grant Gambrell (12-0, 0.69) and Hunter Reinke (11-0, 2.20).
Should Buchanan make Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. championship at Cal State Fullerton, Olson may get the start, though Donald says he may start him Wednesday.
“Carson was always a good player coming up through the program as an infielder and pitcher,” Donald says. “As a junior, we felt his best value to us was to concentrate on pitching only. He jumped on the opportunity, refined his skills, really prepared himself for the summer and Cal came knocking.”
The Bears have succeeded with an unusual balance of sophomores and seniors.
Sophomores starting regularly have been second baseman Brady Hormel (.353, 15 runs), first baseman T.J. Fondtain (.308) and center fielder Miguel Ortiz (.356, 13 runs, 12 RBI, four triples). And sophomores Jacob King (0-0, 0.58, five saves) and Marcelo Saldana (2-0, 0.00) have anchored the bullpen.
Donald says Fondtain (2-0, 1.00) and Saldana will make pitching starts in the tournament, along with Reinke (5-0, 1.25) and Olson.
Senior cornerstones batting Nos. 1-3-4-5 have been shortstop Jamal O’Guinn (.380, 21 runs, six stolen bases), third baseman Quentin Stone (.333, 15 RBI), catcher Zach Presno (.312, 14 RBI) and designated hitter Matt McGrady (.352). O’Guinn (USC), Stone (Cal) and Presno (Fresno State) have signed college scholarships.
Little Baker coming to town
The 48th Fresno Easter Classic will have an intriguing guest – Darren Baker.
He’s best remembered for being swooped out of harm’s way at home plate by J.T. Snow in the 2002 World Series as the then 3-year-old son of Giants manager Dusty Baker and the bat boy for a team that would lose in seven games to the Anaheim Angels.
Now, with Dad managing the Washington Nationals, Baker is making a name for himself in another way on the opposite side of the country as a professional prospect for Jesuit-Carmichael just east of Sacramento.
The senior infielder/outfielder is batting .393 for the Marauders (4-6) of the Sac-Joaquin Section, who will open the 34-team tournament Monday against Bullard (7-8-1) at 1 p.m. at Clovis West.
That will follow host Clovis West’s 10 a.m. showdown with Redwood (16-0), which is leading the West Yosemite League with a 5-0 record and ranked 18th in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. The Golden Eagles are 8-7-1 overall and 2-5 in the TRAC.
Another marquee opener in the three-day tournament set for nine Fresno/Clovis fields will have Red Bluff (13-2) of the Northern Section playing at state No. 8 Clovis (15-2-1) at 10 a.m. The Cougars have won their last of eight Easter Classic titles in 2015.
State No. 17 Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove (8-2), one of 13 out-of-section teams in the tournament, will begin against Central at 1 p.m. at Clovis East before returning to the same field to oppose Clovis East at 7 p.m.
The championship will be played Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Clovis West.