Odds scream negatively at the chances of a high school baseball team going 30-1 and finishing top-ranked nationally in multiple polls a year after losing its Most Valuable Player, No. 1 pitcher and starting infield.
But, at Buchanan, it’s not about percentages – rather the three D’s: direction, development and depth.
This explains how the Bears went 30-1 this season with a team that returned one full-time player, catcher Zach Presno, from a 29-4 team in 2015. The losses included center fielder Zach Ashford, The Bee’s Player of the Year; Conner Loeprich, The Bee’s co-Outstanding Pitcher; and first baseman Chandler Bengston, The Bee’s Outstanding Hitter.
This explains why they are arguably the nation’s most heralded program of the decade, having twice finished No. 1 in the land (the other in 2011) in addition to No. 12 last year.
And, finally, this explains how they are 438-121-4 (.782) in 18 seasons under coach Tom Donald, according to section historian Bob Barnett, including two consecutive Central Section Division I titles, four of the past seven and six of the past 12.
How else to explain it?
Trying letting Donald, The Fresno Bee’s repeat Coach of the Year and USA Today California Coach of the Year: “It says a lot about the depth of the program, development at the lower levels and continuing development at the varsity level. Our lower levels do a good job of playing as many kids as they can and developing kids who play multiple positions. Then we’ll move a guy around at varsity depending on our needs.”
Perhaps equally important is keeping happy on the bench many players who likely would be starting on the majority of teams in the 101-school section from Chowchilla to Bakersfield.
I have to be caretaker of the program in terms of culture and direction. …My assistants also do a great job of just talking to players and developing relationships so (the players) don’t feel lost in the shuffle, reminding them they are valued whatever role that might be.
Buchanan baseball coach Tom Donald
“I really believe my job description has changed over the years,” says Donald, who’s 211-48 (.815) with five Tri-River Athletic Conference championships in the past eight years. “I have to be caretaker of the program in terms of culture and direction. I have to spend more time with kids on a daily basis, and that could be one minute during (batting practice) in left field just touching bases. And it’s a conversation like, ‘I know you want to play. Hang in there; you don’t know when your shot is going to come up. I appreciate what you’re doing.’
“And my assistants also do a great job of just talking to players and developing relationships so (the players) don’t feel lost in the shuffle, reminding them they are valued whatever role that might be, whether it’s a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner.”
And then, of course, another potential dicey issue: How to keep mom and dad happy when former youth star Johnny is suddenly sitting the bench?
“We don’t discuss playing time with parents – zero,” says Donald. “I establish that at our preseason potluck: ‘Playing time is not an issue that we will discuss. That’s between you and your boy, not your boy and our staff.’ And I’m fortunate. We have a program with tremendous parental support. They are a bunch of go-getters and ambitious people.”
Examples this season of prominent contributors who have shifted positions and/or played little last year:
▪ Junior Quentin Selma, a former first baseman and second baseman, moved to third base, batted third in the lineup, hit .443 and is The Bee’s Outstanding Hitter. He had 22 at-bats last year.
▪ Senior J.T. Arruda moved from the outfield to second base, batted second, hit .344 and was exceptional defensively. He had 35 at-bats last year.
▪ Senior Alex Peralta is a former third baseman who started in right field and hit .346. He had four at-bats last year.
▪ Junior Chase Rocamora, who came through the program as a shortstop, moved to center field and hit .400. He didn’t get a varsity at-bat last year.
▪ Senior outfielder/designated hitter Cory Williams batted .340 after getting 11 at-bats last year.
▪ Junior Hunter Reinke went 11-0 with a 2.20 ERA after playing mostly junior varsity last year.
Donald makes this clear: It’s hardly his show.
Among his eight assistants, only Bryan Marsoobian didn’t play professionally, and he’s a former Fresno State player and assistant. The others all played for pay – son Jason Donald, Brad Fontes, John Gross, Joe Kemp, Pat Ruth, John Sylvia and Jim Wilson.
“I don’t stand in the way,” Tom Donald says. “They are a wealth of knowledge, and our players know they’re getting superior instruction. It’s all part of the successful formula.”
The only other section baseball teams to finish top-ranked nationally, according to Barnett, were Clovis in 1997 and ’98 and Bullard in 1980 and '93.
CBS MaxPreps National Top 20 (final)
- 1. Buchanan (30-1)
- 2. De La Salle-Concord (25-3)
- 3. Bryant-Ark. (29-2)
- 4. Walton-Marietta, Ga. (32-4)
- 5. Hanover-Mechanicsville, Va. (24-1)
- 6. JSerra-San Juan Capistrano (27-7)
- 7. North Davidson-Lexington-N.C. (30-2)
- 8. Barbe-Lake Charles, La. (35-6)
- 9. Brother Rice-Chicago, Ill. (35-4)
- 10. West-Texas (33-5)
- 11. Oxford-Miss. (28-8)
- 12. Selah-Wash. (25-1)
- 13. Bolles-Jacksonville, Fla. (28-3)
- 14. Stoneman Douglas-Parkland, Fla. (27-2)
- 15. Sparkman-Harvest, Ala. (37-9)
- 16. Archbishop McCarthy-Southwest Ranches, Fla. (29-2)
- 17. Zionsville-Indiana (30-5-1)
- 18. Houston-Missouri (31-4)
- 19. Summerville-South Carolina (29-7)
- 20. Redondo Union-Redondo Beach (31-2)
USA Today National Top 20 (final)
- 1. Buchanan (30-1)
- 2. Archbishop McCarthy-Southwest Ranches, Fla. (29-2)
- 3. Centerbury School-Fort Myers, Fla. (30-1)
- 4. Walton-Marietta, Ga. (32-4)
- 5. Stoneman Douglas-Parkland, Fla. (27-2)
- 6. Redondo Union-Redondo Beach (31-2)
- 7. Barbe-Lake Charles, La. (35-6)
- 8. Hanover-Mechanicsville, Va. (24-1)
- 9. Teurlings Catholic-Lafayette, La. (35-4)
- 10. Steinbrenner-Lutz, Fla. (27-5)
- 11. Bryant-Ark. (29-2)
- 12. Basic-Henderson-Nev. (36-4)
- 13. Archbishop Spalding-Severn, Md. (27-5)
- 14. Oxford-Miss. (28-8)
- 15. De La Salle-Concord (25-3)
- 16. Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa, Ala. (40-10)
- 17. Shawnee Mission East-Kan. (21-4)
- 18. Creighton Prep-Omaha, Neb. (28-4)
- 19. Jesuit College Prep-Dallas, Tex. (36-8)
- 20. Seton Hall Prep-West Orange, N.J. (28-3)