The high school baseball machine called Buchanan did what it’s done for two decades – throwing strikes, executing defensively and grinding out at bats – and turned a national-class showdown into its own showcase Tuesday night with a 7-0 win over Clovis North.
Grant Gambrell, pitching for the first time in two weeks after experiencing a cramp in his right throwing arm, worked five scoreless innings while improving to 10-0 as the Bears secured their ninth Tri-River Athletic Conference title in 18 years under coach Tom Donald.
Buchanan, which will close the regular season at home Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against the Broncos, improved to 26-1 overall and 13-1 in the league while surely locking the top seed for the Central Section Division I playoffs, which will begin next week.
The Bears, in pursuit of their sixth section crown under Donald, also continued to justify rankings – No. 1 in the section by The Fresno Bee, No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 3 nationally by CBS MaxPreps. Clovis North (22-5-1, 11-3) arrived No. 2 in the section, No. 3 in the state and No. 38 nationally.
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This comes a year after Buchanan went 29-4, won the section and finished third-ranked in the state and No. 12 nationally.
And it comes five years after they went 30-2 and finished top-ranked nationally by ESPN RISE.
Donald points to others – namely, an annual flow of fundamentally sound players and an eight-man staff that counts seven former pros and one major college assistant: “They have a wealth of knowledge and are imparting that knowledge to our players. This allows me to view the entire program, from seventh to 12th grade, from 36,000 feet. I’ve made sure I’ve hired baseball guys who know how to handle 15- to 18-year-olds. The players are well fed, and that’s been a good formula for us over the years.”
For all of the players who have helped frame Donald’s career (434-121-4, .780), Gambrell has defined himself.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder has compiled an 0.59 earned-run average while giving up only 18 hits in 59 innings – an astounding ratio, especially considering his competition. Clovis of the TRAC, for example, is also ranked 13th in the state after having received national billing earlier in the season.
Gambrell, batting cleanup, is also hitting .370 with five home runs, balancing a résumé that has CBS MaxPreps listing him among 10 National Player of the Year candidates.
He’s signed with Oregon State as both a pitcher and hitter, but the question to be answered in early June: Will the Ducks be able to keep him out of professional grasp?
In regard to being drafted and signing a pro contract, the pitcher with a low 90 mph fastball and an advisor, said: “Hopefully, the financial part is right and that will work out. They usually contact me throughout the week. As of now, though, I’m focusing on college.”
He gave up two hits in five innings against Clovis North, which had beaten the Bears 12-5 on April 8.
And, while Gambrell’s pitches are oft-overpowering and missed, he’s also quite aware that, upon contact, he has vacuums behind him in third baseman Quentin Selma, shortstop Jamal O’Guinn and second baseman J.T. Arruda – all committed to Fresno State.
“Best defense in the nation,” Gambrell said. “It’s nice to have that behind you.”