Clovis News: Sports

Panthers baseball strives for different outcome

They have won 98 games in four years. They are 84-12 in the past three. They were top seeds in the past two.

But no Central Section baseball title for coach Mike Curran, pitcher/infielder Andrew Rich and the Washington High Panthers.

And here they are again, in the semifinals for the fourth straight year, this time in Division IV.

Never have they made the finals.

"We need to finish the deal, it's that simple," Curran said.

"I don't want to go out without a Valley championship," four-year starter Rich said. "That was the goal from the first day I got here -- to win it all."

Second-seeded Washington (30-3), having set a school record for wins three consecutive seasons, will play at home against No. 6 Taft (21-7) Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.

The winner will advance to Friday's 4:30 p.m. championship against the survivor of No. 4 Selma and No. 1 Kingsburg.

The postseason continues to challenge Washington, even in victory.

In 2006, the Panthers beat Tehachapi 7-5 before losing 9-2 to El Diamante in D-III.

In '07, as top seeds, they escaped 8-7 against Highland in the quarterfinals before being drilled 12-3 by Selma.

Last year, as top seeds again, edged No. 8 Garces 4-3 before losing 6-1 to No. 5 South.

And then Friday, as No. 2 seeds, they scored on a walkoff strikeout-wild pitch in the eighth inning for a 2-1 win over No. 7 Chowchilla.

Up next is Taft, the South Sequoia League co-champion, which advanced with a 5-2 road upset of No. 3 Central Valley Christian.

"Honestly, I feel better this year than the past three because we have depth on the mound," Curran said. "You never know when you're going to have a team this good again, so we've got to find a way to rise to the top."

Rich, after beating North Sequoia League rival Chowchilla with a 102-pitch seven-hitter, is 9-1 this season and 35-6 in his career.

But Curran is undecided whether he will give Rich the ball again against the Wildcats. The coach is also considering juniors Jacob Phillips (8-2) or Adam McCurley (4-0).

"I'm really torn," Curran said. "It would be great to give Andrew rest, but he'd be fine if he comes back on the hill, too."

There's no question about placing a bat in the hands of UC Davis-bound Rich, whose 179 career hits are four short of the section record by Centennial graduate Joe Ramirez.

Division I

Eighth-seeded Bullard (21-10), the story of the section's postseason after beating No. 9 Clovis East 7-6 and No. 1 Buchanan 10-9, will visit defending D-I champion Stockdale (24-5) today in a switch from Wednesday to accommodate the Mustangs' graduation. Question for the Knights is can they outslug Stockdale, which is averaging 11.1 runs a game?

No. 3 Clovis (24-7) and No. 2 Clovis West (27-5) have split four games entering the 7 p.m. contest at Stan Bledsoe Field. And the burning question here: Will the father-son coaching matchup of James Patrick and Kevin Patrick return their aces -- Sean Silva (10-2) and Zach Coy (11-2) -- after they threw in Friday's quarterfinals?

Division II

Memorial (17-14), which lost to Mt. Whitney in last year's final as a No. 4 seed, has marched into a semifinal at No. 1 El Diamante as a No. 13 seed. No. 6 Frontier (18-10) visits No. 2 Edison (20-11) in the other semifinal.

Division III

Hot one here will send No. 3 Fresno (20-8) to No. 2 Hanford (18-9) two months after the Bullpups defeated the Warriors 3-1 in the Fresno Easter Classic. No. 1 Clovis North (22-9), still breathing with only freshmen and sophomores, will host No. 5 Madera South (12-18).

Division IV

Kingsburg (21-4) and Selma (17-11) split two games in the Central Sequoia League, which the Vikings won at 10-2.

Division V

A pitching beauty should match Brandon Martinez of No. 5 and three-year defending champion Fowler (16-14) and Nick Palacios of No. 1 Liberty-Madera Ranchos (22-7). No. 7 Lindsay, an 8-5 upset winner over No. 2 Bakersfield Christian, will travel to No. 3 Corcoran (20-6-1).

Division VI

No. 1 Orange Cove (17-12) is a prohibitive favorite at home against No. 2 McFarland (10-12-1) in the only division that will decide its championship Wednesday.