Reviewing his senior baseball season at Buchanan High, Grant Gambrell never uses the word “perfection,” surely a temptation.
All the Fresno Bee’s overwhelming Player of the Year choice says, in summary: “I completed all the goals on my checklist, as a team and individually. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
These are boxes accessible only to the elite.
▪ Tri-River Athletic Conference championship. Check.
▪ Central Section Division I title. Check.
▪ State top ranking(s). Check.
▪ National top ranking(s). Check.
OK, but with a bloody check mark as well.
Gambrell delivered a 12-0 pitching record, 0.69 ERA and .363 batting average for a 30-1 team that capped its season with a 4-0 win over TRAC rival Clovis North for the D-I title at Visalia’s Rawhide Ballpark on May 31.
By the time the game ended at about 9:45 p.m. and in upper-80s temperatures, Gambrell’s left pant leg, from the knee several inches downward, was so soiled it had turned from the original light blue to red to black.
And that’s literal blood red as opposed to Bears Nation red.
“Tough guy. Grant wouldn’t be who he is today and where he is today if he wasn’t,” says Buchanan coach Tom Donald, who says he was so locked into the game – which would produce the program’s second consecutive section title and sixth in 12 years – he didn’t become aware of right-hander Gambrell’s wardrobe shredding, to say nothing of his leg lacerations, until afterward.
“He didn’t say a word; he doesn’t say a word,” says Donald. “I saw it afterward and I was like, ‘What is that?’ He’s a tough guy who was focused, and you can’t fake that. That’s not all bark and no bite. It’s genuine toughness.”
And imagine: Gambrell’s five-hitter with 10 strikeouts – firing fastballs clocked at 91-93 mph wire to wire, even a few at 94 – were delivered for six innings after he injured the leg sliding into home on a Chris Lopez sacrifice fly in the bottom of the first.
Gambrell, clearly amped in a professional venue (Arizona Diamondbacks Advanced Class-A affiliate) and conscious of section, state and national implications, had closed the top of the first inning with two strikeouts.
He then opened the second inning with a strikeout, but felt restricted after his leg was taped by a team trainer to control bleeding.
“I couldn’t pick up my left leg,” he says. “So after that I took (the tape) off and let it bleed. The discomfort didn’t cross my mind. I just went out there to compete.”
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound right-hander did more as clearly the most imposing player on the field.
“Grant was dialed in and the team fed off his confidence,” Donald says. “Your good players have to play well in big games, and he did. He was dominant.”
In one of the most statistically sensational seasons in the history of a section that played its first baseball game in 1915, the most striking number of all had Gambrell give up only 28 hits in 71 innings – an average of 2.76 for every seven innings. He struck out 72 and walked 17 against high-caliber competition for a team whose statewide opposition won a collective 58 percent of its games and included five teams with at least 20 victories.
He was not selected the recent Major League amateur draft after advising organizations not to waste a pick because he was committed to playing at least the next three years of his career at Oregon State.
In the D-I final against Cal-Hi Sports’ state fourth-ranked Clovis North – three weeks after he beat the Broncos 7-0 – Gambrell struck out the first two batters in the seventh.
Surely he would have preferred to strike out the side, but perhaps it finished more appropriately as second baseman J.T. Arruda snagged Noah Haupt’s sharp grounder with two runners and tagged his base for the game-ending forceout.
Among several teammates Gambrell has played with since youth, “best friend” Arruda goes back the furthest, with a history of success in state and national tournaments.
It’s these type of relationships Gambrell says he’ll cherish the most: “The season was one for the books, obviously. And most special was spending it with many teammates I’ve been playing with since 7. And since we were little, we’ve always been aiming for a national championship.”
Buchanan finished top ranked in no fewer than five national polls, the most prominent being USA Today and CBS Maxpreps. Cal-Hi Sports and MaxPreps also had the Bears top-ranked in the state.
“The national championship is pretty special,” Gambrell says, “because that will be there forever.”
Outstanding Hitter: Quentin Selma
He’s qualified because: It’s all about credibility for the No. 3 hitter of a 30-1 and nation top-ranked team who led the team in average (.443), runs (29), RBIs (29), extra base hits (19 – 10 doubles, five triples, four home runs), on-base percentage (.530) and slugging percentage (.773) against top-level competition. The Tri-River Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and major college recruit went 5-for-10 in three Division I playoff wins as the Bears repeated their Central Section title. And that included a hit in each first inning – each of which they scored. Son of Fresno City longtime lead assistant Bart Selma and grandson of the late 10-year major leaguer Dick Selma, also had a 1.31 ERA with six saves and 17 strikeouts in 16 innings.
He said it: “We’ve known all along we had something special in Q because of the consistent swing he puts on the ball. The biggest thing, he doesn’t try to do too much; he’s consistent in his approach, physically and mentally. And he’s a competitor. His father has groomed him well for the big stage.” – Buchanan coach Tom Donald.
Outstanding Pitcher: Jacob Pizzo
He’s qualified because: Senior right-hander closed one of the most accomplished careers in the history of a storied program by going 12-2 with a 1.22 earned-run average and 84 strikeouts in 88 1/3 innings. County-Metro Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year up only four extra base hits this season while completing a four-year career with 28 wins. He also hit .294 with 21 RBIs and two home runs, including a first-inning shot off Fresno Bee Player of the Year and unbeaten Grant Gambrell in what would be a 5-3 semifinal loss to Central Section Division I champion Buchanan. Next: University of San Francisco.
He said it: “He matured as a pitcher and honed his craft, which is impressive considering he did this for four years and came in pretty polished as a freshman. We typically don’t throw a freshman in the mix but he earned every inning he had. He’s become more refined as a pitcher and is ready for the next level.” – Bullard coach Chad Thornhill.
Baseball Fab 50
- Nick Sheehan, senior, outfielder, Bullard
- Hunter Reinke, junior, pitcher, Buchanan
- J.T. Arruda, senior, infielder, Buchanan
- Jamal O’Guinn, junior, infielder, Buchanan
- Zach Presno, junior, catcher, Buchanan
- Chase Rocamora, junior, outfielder, Buchanan
- Alex Peralta, senior, outfielder, Buchanan
- Kory Bier, senior, pitcher/infielder, Central
- Dalton Daily, junior, infielder/pitcher, Central Valley Christian
- Jeremy Garcia, senior, infielder, Clovis
- Zac Whittaker, senior, pitcher, Clovis
- Mason Grotto, junior, infielder, Clovis
- David Chavira, senior, pitcher, Clovis East
- Michael Williams, senior, pitcher, Clovis North
- Matt Fraizer, senior, outfielder, Clovis North
- Brett Walker, junior, pitcher, Clovis North
- James Bell, sophomore, catcher, Clovis North
- Nick Falco, junior, pitcher, Clovis West
- Jacob Paradine, senior, pitcher/infielder, Dinuba
- Isaiah Haddad, junior, infielder, Edison
- Eddie Rios, junior, pitcher/infielder, Edison
- Tyler Rumbaugh, senior, pitcher/infielder, Exeter
- Michael Leyva, freshman, pitcher/infielder, Firebaugh
- Brian Lopez, junior, pitcher/utility, Firebaugh
- Raymond Ramirez, senior, infielder/pitcher, Fowler
- Oscar Topete, senior, pitcher/utility, Fresno
- Esteban Lizaola, senior, pitcher/infielder, Immanuel
- Austin Pease, senior, infielder/catcher, Immanuel
- Isaiah Daniel, senior, catcher, Kerman
- Marcus Davis, junior, infielder, Kerman
- John Mendrin, senior, pitcher, Madera
- Isaac Rivera, senior, pitcher/outfielder, Madera
- Ruben Sanchez, senior, pitcher/infielder, Madera South
- Braden Fitzgerald, junior, infielder, Memorial
- Riley Hillerman, senior, pitcher/infielder, Minarets
- Holden Powell, junior, pitcher/utility, Mt. Whitney
- Brandon Howard, senior, infielder, Mt. Whitney
- Jordan Prendiz, senior, outfielder, Mt. Whitney
- Jacob Haas, senior, outfielder, Porterville
- Jacob Hernandez, junior, pitcher/outfielder, Porterville
- Jake Bower, junior, pitcher, Redwood
- Jace Chamberlin, junior, infielder, Redwood
- Chris Gonzalez, junior, outfielder, Redwood
- Michael Warkentin, senior, pitcher/outfielder, Reedley
- Josh Mares, junior, infielder, Selma
- Will Martin, senior, outfielder, Sierra
- Joel Bustos, senior, pitcher/infielder, Sunnyside
- Michael Salazar, senior, catcher/pitcher, Tulare Western
- Rudy Vasquez, senior, outfielder, Tulare Western
- Robby Stevenson, freshman, pitcher/fielder, Woodlake