Clovis News: Sports

Eagles continue to rule high school sports

A friend was saying last week that Clovis West High -- in a sensational year -- had better relish the party because the balloons are about to pop.

He pointed to the growth of Clovis North, how Clovis Unified continues to expand, and how difficult it will be for Clovis West to maintain its excellence.

I could only smile and shake my head.

This is what I heard when Buchanan was built.

And then Clovis East.

Now Clovis North.

And all along I've thought: Wishful thinking. Only one has hung with the Golden Eagles -- Buchanan. Those schools combined for 17 of a possible 23 Central Section Division I championships this year.

Clovis West, for three decades the most powerful athletic department in the section (171 titles), reached unprecedented heights this year with nine section crowns, three runners-up, two nationally ranked teams (baseball and boys volleyball) and a girls basketball team that reached the Southern Section Regional championship.

That should be enough for the Eagles to secure a fourth state sports school of the year honor by Cal-Hi Sports. They also were named in 1994, 1999 and 2005.

The answer for Clovis West remains unchanged: keen administration; healthy balance of demographics; top-caliber, on-campus coaching from the elementary level on up; and, of course, talent.

Jeanne Hatfield, who has climbed through the Eagles' district as teacher and cheer adviser in its infancy in the late '70s to area superintendent in the present, acknowledges the overall infrastructure is key to Clovis West's success.

But, Hatfield stresses, "It's not just about Clovis West."

The district's growth, she says, actually has inspired greater achievement for the Eagles.

"Every time we add a school," she says, "we tend to raise the level of expectations and competitiveness, and make each other better. It's about all of us getting better, and that's an important piece. It's real intense, and we push each other."

Donald, part I

Buchanan baseball coach Tom Donald is 278-88 in 12 years with three section titles -- the latest, 7-5 over the nation's eighth-ranked Clovis West on Thursday. That culminated a fantasy like 10-day period that had him and wife Debbie witness their son Jason's first six days in the major leagues in Tampa and Cleveland in addition to zipping to Long Beach State to see their daughter, Katie, graduate.

But Donald's greatest victory was one without fanfare and headlines, April 8, on the Bears' varsity field. It was there that about 400 special-needs students from Clovis Unified gathered to learn how to play baseball from Buchanan's varsity team in what has become an eight-year tradition.

Ten stations were set up around the field, and the children -- third- to sixth-graders wheelchair-bound, autistic, blind and with Down syndrome -- experienced the thrill of playing ball. And many of their parents, many in tears, were present.

Yes, that conquest of Clovis West on Thursday before what is believed to be the largest crowd in section history to see a high school baseball game -- roughly 3,000 -- was impressive.

But not to compare with April 8.

Donald, Part II

Initially, after beating Centennial 7-6 in eight innings in the D-I semifinals Tuesday, Donald said he would remain with the status quo for Clovis Unified baseball games and play Clovis West at night.

Then the obvious: Eagles senior Eric Karch, the section's finest all-around player this season, had twice beaten the Bears at night (3-1 and 4-1) en route to an 11-0 record. So why deal with him a third time under the same conditions?

"Everybody's fastball is 2 or 3 [mph] faster at night, and Karch doesn't need any more help," Donald said. "I didn't want to give them any more of an edge."

Result? Buchanan had eight hits off Pepperdine-bound Karch, including three-run homers by Steven Lozier and Jason Gonzalez after three innings, en route to its third section title in six years.

And all three have come at the expense of Clovis West, which, for all of its overall success at the section level, is 1-6 in D-I baseball finals. And five of those silver medals have come in the past six years.

Donald, Part III

Donald also made the call of the game against Clovis West, and it came early.

Following singles by Seth Moranda and Shota Runge and a flyout to open the game off Karch, Steven Lozier worked the pitcher to a 3-0 count.

Donald gave Lozier the green light, and the senior left-handed hitter -- who missed nearly half the season with a back injury -- launched a drive that sailed over the right field pine trees, over the adjacent junior varsity field backstop, and rolled down the first base line for a three-run homer.

This and that

-- All a coach can do is drive his team to the threshold and keep on knocking. And that can be expected of Eagles baseball coach Kevin Patrick, who is 80-18 in three years with the program and started five underclassmen against Buchanan. One of those, sophomore shortstop Ryan Clark, went 3 for 3 with two doubles, two RBIs and a stolen base.

-- Looking for the section standard in baseball? For all the glamour at the likes of Buchanan and Clovis West, take Highway 99 to south Fresno County, hit Merced Street and go east until you find a baseball field so plush it could double as a golf course. That would be one Fowler High, now 128-31 with four D-V titles in five seasons under coach Bill Feaver. And no one deserved to go out on top more than Redcats senior Kenny Corona, given the physical setbacks in his prep career.

-- Maybe we've seen the last of epic pitching duels such as the one staged by Stockdale's Justine Vela (six-hitter, 19 Ks) and Buchanan's Natalie Rendon (eight-hitter, 10 Ks) in the Mustangs' 15-inning, 1-0 upset at Bear Diamond on Friday. Next year, softball pitching in the state will be moved back 3 feet to 43, consistent with college.

-- And, finally, the section championship least talked about in the Valley: Kings Christian defeated Laton 4-3 for the D-VI softball crown -- the Crusaders' first Central Section title in any sport. No one culled more out of less than coach Lucio Montoyo, whose 88-student, four-year school has 45 girls. And 14 played softball.