Clovis High, which needs no help to win championships in baseball, combined good fortune with its signature execution and clutch play to capture an eighth title Wednesday night in the Fresno Easter Classic.
After scoring three runs in the bottom of the seventh earlier in the day to escape 3-2 at home against Reedley, the Cougars received combined three-hit pitching from Zac Whittaker and Alec Akins to beat Memorial 2-0 for the title.
Akins and Dakota delivered RBI singles in the fifth and sixth innings as Clovis won a second straight Classic crown while improving to 13-8.
But it was a grind for the the program coming off a 33-5 season in which the Cougars won the Central Section Division I title and finished ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 4 nationally.
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They were no-hit for four innings by Memorial junior right-hander Charles Zarasua, who had pitched only two innings this season.
“I think we found something in him,” Panthers coach Pete Dalena said. “I’m really proud of him.”
Memorial entered the Classic-record 38-team field with a 6-10 record before going 4-0 in the tournament’s regular phase. Yet the frustration continued for a program that has participated in every Classic without winning one. Memorial also placed second to Frontier in 2013.
Clovis, meanwhile, caught a break — three of them, actually — to make the final after going 3-1.
Oakmont-Roseville and Franklin-Elk Grove of the Sac-Joaquin Section and Salinas of the Central Coast Section each went 4-0, but they weren’t allowed to play a fifth game in the tournament because of season maximum-games restrictions (28) in their respective sections. Because their schedules are full, a championship appearance in the Classic would have ultimately resulted in 29 games.
The Central Section also will implement the 28-game policy next school year, but section Assistant Commissioner Jeff Cardoza said section bylaws will allow an exemption for this type of tournament scenario, given advance notice of the possibility by tournament officials.
Cardoza said the Central Section is adopting the policy in its attempt to “level the playing field” because some districts in the region were enforcing total contact restrictions and others weren’t.
“Franklin had a really good team, I feel bad for them because they had nothing to play for,” Clovis coach James Patrick said. “It’s too bad these different sections aren’t on the same page. I think our section made the right decisions about finals (exemptions) next year. That’s the right thing to do.”
Whittaker, a junior left-hander, shared the Classic Most Outstanding Pitcher award with Central’s Colton Eastman, who pitched a five-hitter and struck out 18 in an eight-inning 2-1 win over Frontier on Wednesday morning at Clovis West.
Whittaker, also named the tournament’s Outstanding Pitcher last year, gave up one hit and struck out seven in four innings. And this came after he had struck out seven in six innings while throwing 108 pitches in a 5-0 win over Hanford West Monday morning.
“Coach asked me how I felt and I said, ‘I want to go, let me do it,’” said Whittaker, who threw 54 pitches against Memorial.
“We had told him 45 pitches, but he had a good fourth inning and he just went over the limit,” Patrick said. “It was close to almost being a bullpen (workout). And he would have thrown a pen anyway (today).”
Akins, a senior left-hander, was named the Classic’s Most Outstanding Player, along with Woodcreek-Roseville’s Tyler Malone and Memorial’s Noah Padilla.
Besides earning the save in the final by giving up two hits and striking out five in three innings, he broke a scoreless tie with an RBI single to center field in the fifth.
That scored Derek Gilmore, who had pinch run for Clayton Alexander after the sophomore had led off the inning with a single. Gilmore then advanced to second on Johnny Wiltfang’s hit-and-run groundout. Had Gilmore not been on the move, he would have likely been forced at second.
The Cougars also scored in the sixth on singles by two players who made significant contributions last year, Tevin Mitchell and Dakota Stilson.
Clovis, which beat Crater-Oregon 8-2 for last year’s Classic title, rallied past Reedley earlier Wednesday on RBI singles by sophomore Tyson Fraser and Stilson (walk-off).
The Cougars were one of several teams to finish the Classic’s regular phase with 3-1 records, but the Cougars qualified for the final by winning the first tiebreaker — fewest runs allowed. They gave up nine.
Among other 3-1 teams were Buchanan and Edison. They each gave up 15 runs.
Memorial, earlier Wednesday, had Padilla blast a two-run homer, sophomore Mike Alvarez add a go-ahead RBI double in a three-run third and Matt Rodriguez give up six hits in six innings in a 5-2 win over Woodcreek at Clovis East.
Padilla, a senior second baseman, hit .500 (6 for 12) in the tournament.
The Panthers, now up to D-I after two consecutive runners-up finishes in D-II, have 12 sophomores and juniors.
“It took them a while to figure it out,” Dalena said. “But they have and I’m really excited about what we have going now.”
The final matched two of the section’s all-time winningest coaches in Patrick (661-228-2, 30 years) and Dalena (331-231-1, 19 years), according to section historian Bob Barnett.
In section annals, Patrick trails only Mike Noakes (708-261-7, Bullard/Central, 1967-2002) and Ken Papi (662-444, Fresno, 1975-present).