Buchanan High defeated Clovis West 7-5 in a Central Section Division I championship baseball game in late May that featured 11 underclassmen starters.
The Bears and Golden Eagles also finished ranked Nos. 3-4 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, so it's no surprise they are Nos. 1-2 in The Bee's 2011 preseason rankings.
But the rankings come with an asterisk -- several, actually.
Both teams, while accomplished in many areas, will limp into the season with a medical ward full of injuries.
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- Jordan Luplow -- senior third baseman, Bee All-Star and Fresno State signee -- is likely gone for the season after having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder in early January.
- Ryan Clark, a junior shortstop who went 3 for 3 with two doubles in the D-I championship, is not expected to play until the beginning of Tri-River Athletic Conference March 18 after tearing two ligaments in his left (nonthrowing) thumb diving for a Frisbee in a physical education class.
Of all the injuries, Luplow's rings the loudest given its severity, impact and college future, which should be safe. Should the .410 slugger return late this season, it will be as a designated hitter only.
"And that's a long shot," he said.
His absence not only denies the Bears a powerful No. 3 hitter but also a defensive dandy at the left corner of the infield and probably the team's No. 2 or 3 pitcher.
"It will take two or three players to replace him, but we'll work a little magic and make that happen," said coach Tom Donald, whose team opens at 2 p.m. Wednesday with a home doubleheader against defending D-II champion Frontier.
The 2010 season was special indeed for Buchanan, which closed a 28-5 year by beating Clovis West for the first time in four games for the D-I crown. The Golden Eagles were ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 8 nationally.
The Bears finished ranked 20th nationally by Baseball America after securing their third section title in the 12-year career of Donald, who was named Coach of the Year by The Bee and Cal-Hi Sports.
Despite the losses of Luplow and Funk, depth and experience -- featuring four-year starter Seth Moranda -- and a continued flow of incoming talent favor Buchanan for a fourth D-I title in seven years.
Moranda, another Bear headed to Fresno State, earned his 21st career victory in an 11-strikeout performance against Clovis West in last season's championship. A shortstop when he's not pitching, the leadoff hitter also singled in his first three at-bats of that game, closing a .371 season.
In addition to Moranda and Luplow, other Buchanan underclassmen starting in the title game were shortstop Shota Runge, right fielder Christian Parra, second baseman Jason Gonzalez and catcher Jeff Brown.
Bears coaches believe Runge, who hit .342, will be one of the top players in the section.
Rousey is the X factor. The 6-foot, 170-pounder went 6-1 and hit .300 for Crescenta Valley-La Crescenta. But, without playing an inning for Buchanan, he has recognized a clear upgrade in competition in the TRAC.
"I can already tell," he said. "It's another intensity level, and pretty much for all sports."
Donald is confident a healthy Rousey is a good fit: "He throws three pitches for strikes and can play short and third. He'll be a tremendous asset."