Clovis News: Sports

Buchanan baseball wins Classic title

On a day that began with rain, turned to sunshine, then hail, then sunshine and, finally, the evening chill, some normalcy returned to the Fresno Easter Baseball Classic on Wednesday at Clovis West's Stan Bledsoe Field.

Buchanan won its sixth Classic title in 10 years, beating unbeaten Pleasant Grove-Elk Grove, 6-3. And there's a common tie to all the championships -- exceptional pitching depth.

A 5-0 tournament for the Central Section's second-ranked Bears (15-2) closed with a five-hitter by Drew Merlo, a senior left-hander, who improved to 7-0 with an 0.74 ERA.

The son of former NFL player Jim Merlo didn't pitch 10 innings on the varsity as a junior, but dedicated himself to strength training in the offseason, gaining 15 pounds up to 180 on his 6-foot frame.

"Confidence is the main thing about pitching," he said.

"Every time you go to the mound, you have to have the mindset to win, so to say this is a coincidence? I wouldn't say so. This is my last year and my last chance; I couldn't ask for anything more."

Bears coach Tom Donald said: "I watched him during the offseason, in the weight room and religious with our arm strength program. He's a great success story and a living example for our young players what can happen when you work hard."

Merlo, the Classic's co-Most Outstanding Pitcher, gets bonus points because his performance occurred in the title game and against the Sac-Joaquin Section's top-ranked team that arrived 11-0.

On the other hand, it was merely a routine effort for a Bears pitcher.

Consider their first four wins in the 36-team event that began Monday:

-- Ryan Lee beat Memorial 15-2 with a five-hitter.

-- Jordan Luplow and Jack Karraker combined for a five-hitter in an eight-inning, 2-1 win over Granite Bay.

-- Classic MVP Seth Moranda beat Franklin-Elk Grove 6-2 with a four-hitter.

-- And Holden Berger, a sophomore yanked up from the junior varsity, beat Mt. Whitney 11-0 Wednesday morning when Donald rolled the dice, saving Merlo for the potential championship.

Berger's blanking in a game called after five innings carried added significance on a day when five teams closed the tournament's regular phase with 4-0 records.

Fewest runs allowed is the first tie-breaker used, and the Bears advanced to the title game after giving up five.

Pleasant Grove qualified with three runs allowed after winning 4-1 earlier Wednesday at Bullard behind Zack Stilwell's four-hitter. To that point, the Eagles had been virtually flawless in the Classic, but all of Buchanan's runs were unearned because of their six errors.

Also going 4-0 were host Fresno (eight runs allowed), Rocklin-Manteca (11) and Clovis West (14).