This has been about Buchanan baseball all along in the Central Section: preseason No. 1 by The Fresno Bee, high state and national billing as well, a 17-0 start to justify it all and now a 22-1 record and No. 4 national ranking that evokes memories of its 30-2 blockbuster five years ago.
And it’s also been about Clovis North lurking all along as well: an 11-1-1 start, nothing-to-something state rankings and even a 12-5 conquest of Buchanan launching a winning streak now at six entering a home game against Clovis East on Friday night.
“I’m OK flying under the radar, because when you get to the top (in rankings) there’s only one way to go,” said Broncos coach Chris Patrick.
“We want to be on top May 31,” he said, referring to the section Division I final that night at Visalia’s Rawhide Ballpark. “That’s the only rankings that matter.”
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Regardless, there’s no denying Clovis North is under the rankings radar no more.
1 Buchanan’s state baseball ranking by Cal-Hi Sports
Buchanan and the Broncos are ranked Nos. 1-2 in the section by The Bee, Nos. 1-6 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and most important – for now, at least – Nos. 1-2 atop the Tri-River Athletic Conference standings with a five-game charge to the regular-season wire.
It’s a two-horse TRAC race that will close with games against each other May 10 (at Clovis North) and May 13 (at Buchanan).
The Bears, next week, will also have two games with Clovis (20-5, 5-5), which is ranked 10th in the state and had been nationally. Buchanan is ranked No. 4 nationally by CBS MaxPreps behind Texans Lake Travis (24-4-1), Deer Park (26-0) and Coppell (25-1) five years after finishing No. 1 in the land by ESPN RISE.
Patrick – whose father, James, coaches Clovis and brother, Kevin, coaches Clovis West – is 165-78-3 in eight seasons while grooming a Clovis North program since its varsity inception in 2009.
6 Clovis North’s state ranking by Cal-Hi
The Bears have had but two losing seasons under Patrick, and the latest happened to be last year (13-17-2).
“We knew before this season we had the ingredients of a championship team,” he said, “and that from the get-go we would have the chance to beat anybody.”
We knew before this season we had the ingredients of a championship team and that from the get-go we would have the chance to beat anybody.
Clovis North coach Chris Patrick
Mainly, Clovis North had one of the state’s elite players in Arizona-bound center fielder Matt Fraizer, who’s producing predictably at bat (.375 average, 21 runs) and afield; returning pitchers Brett Walker and Michael Williams, who are a combined 13-1; a gifted sophomore class that went 15-0 in the TRAC as a freshman team in 2015, a class now featuring varsity catcher James Bell (.483); and, above all, depth.
This is not a team, Patrick says, that has the bling of Trent Ashford, Christian Rossi, Jack Labosky and a 27-6 2013 team that captured the Division I title.
“I look around, position by position,” Patrick said while comparing the teams, “and we might not be as talented but, collectively, we have more depth. ... We have a lot of guys not getting into the lineup right now who would start at other schools.”
A season highlight came in the April 8 home game against Buchanan when second baseman Grant Asadoor (RBI single) and shortstop Joey Toles (three-run double) re-entered and delivered key sixth-inning hits after being pinch hit for earlier in a game that had the Bears tie it 5-5 on Grant Gambrell’s grand slam.
“It would have been easy for (Asadoor and Toles) to tank, but they came through, and I told them I was proud of them,” Patrick said. “Our kids know their roles and are accepting them.”
Gambrell on national list: Gambrell, who has signed with Oregon State as a pitcher/first baseman, is among 10 on the CBS MaxPreps National Baseball Player of the Year watch list. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is 9-0 with an 0.65 ERA, having struck out 58 and given up an astonishingly low 15 hits in 54 innings. He’s also hitting .367 with four home runs and 29 RBIs.
CENTRAL SECTION BASEBALL RANKINGS
1. Buchanan (TRAC, 22-1)
2. Clovis North (TRAC, 19-4-1)
3. Clovis (TRAC, 20-5)
4. Bullard (CMAC, 16-7)
5. Tulare Western (EYL, 16-7)
6. Madera (CMAC, 15-7-1)
7. Clovis West (TRAC, 10-13)
8. Stockdale (SWYL, 15-7)
9. Kerman (NSL, 17-7)
10. Redwood (WYL, 18-6)
11. Central (TRAC, 11-13)
12. Clovis East (TRAC, 8-14-1)
13. Mt. Whitney (WYL, 12-8)
14. Dinuba (CSL, 14-8-1)
15. Edison (CMAC, 12-12)
DIVISION I: 1. Buchanan; 2. Clovis North; 3. Clovis
DIVISION II: 1. Madera; 2. Redwood; 3. Mt. Whitney
DIVISION III: 1. Kerman; 2. Dinuba; 3. Lemoore (12-8)
DIVISION IV: 1. Immanuel (18-5); 2. Firebaugh (18-3); 3. Fowler (13-6-1)
DIVISION V: 1. Central Valley Christian (15-8); 2. Liberty-Madera Ranchos (13-6); 3. Sierra Pacific (12-8-1)
DIVISION VI: 1. Kern Valley (11-4); 2. Sierra (9-10); 3. McFarland (9-10).