The most noticeable numbers for Buchanan High baseball player Zach Ashford are these: .478, 36 and 27.
They represent batting average, runs and steals for the table-setting dynamo who led the 29-4 Bears to a Central Section Division I title and Nos. 3 and 12 state and national rankings.
They are numbers compilated against elite competition that landed the Fresno State-bound senior both Tri-River Athletic Conference Player of the Year and American Baseball Coaches Association All-America Region honors.
And they are numbers that now have him anointed The Bee’s Player of the Year.
But they are not the most meaningful numbers of all.
This is: 2.
That represents how many times he struck out in 113 at bats, and one would have to rake the nation to find a comparable ratio, especially given the quality of pitching he faced wire to wire this season.
So few times did the left-handed leadoff hitter fail to put the ball in play, he recounts them without hesitation: “One against Clovis North, one against Clovis East. Both of them were called third strikes on outside fastballs. And they were balls, but I have to tip my hat to the pitchers.”
He laughs, and Tom Donald goes right with it: “I trust Zach on that; I tend to believe him.”
This is about credibility, talent, discipline and dedication. And for all the Bears greats in a 17-year Donald career that counts 408 wins, a .771 winning percentage and five section championships, Ashford combines those attributes with the best.
Like Jason Donald.
The former major leaguer who joined Dad’s staff this season says of Ashford: “His hand-eye coordination, ability to adjust to pitches and continually repeat his stroke is not common with high school kids. His work ethic is phenomenal; his aptitude off the charts. And he just doesn’t roll out of bed and hit; there are hours he spends in the cage.”
Yes, hours this season with Jason Donald and another team assistant, Bryan Marsoobian.
Hours since his youth with Eddie Zosky, Terrance Frazier, Jeff Prieto and Josh Labandeira.
Bottom line: Ashford has been mentored for 10 years by an all-star team of former local players with accomplished baseball pedigrees.
“Zach has been very fortunate to have had the chance to work with a lot of great coaches,” says his mother, Joanie Ashford.
She’s tiny, and son got her genes.
“I’m 5-9, 160,” he says, “on a good day.”
“He’s had to work extra hard,” Mom says, pausing.
“To compete with the big guys,” he says, completing her thought.
That’s never been a problem for Ashford, also a Bee All-Star in football as a wide receiver.
Buchanan went 79-18 (.814) in his three-year varsity baseball career, capped by a 9-1, 6-1, 15-1 dominance of Clovis North, Tulare Western and Clovis in this season’s D-I playoffs.
Ashford went 6 for 9 and scored eight times in the postseason. And he closed the show with three walks, a triple and three runs against TRAC rival Clovis.
“What a feeling, a dream,” he says of the crusher at Visalia’s Rawhide Ballpark. “I remember growing up with friends on that Clovis team and we always pictured playing for the Valley championship our senior year. But I also pictured it being close; that 15-1 was even better.”
He was also a Bee All-Star after hitting .402 as a junior.
About a month after that season, he and father Kevin — a former Fresno State football player from Sanger — received an unexpected invitation from Mike Batesole to meet in the office of the Bulldogs’ baseball coach.
Ashford, who left Buchanan with a 3.8 GPA, had been recruited by Air Force, but not Batesole.
Or at least Ashford didn’t think so: “I didn’t know I was even on his radar. We get there and he says, ‘I want to talk scholarship.’ I was in shock, thinking, ‘This is unreal.’ I love Fresno State; I always wanted to be a ’Dog. And of course I was going to take it.”
Jason Donald, whose Buchanan single-season hit record of 55 in 2003 still stands after Ashford just missed with 54 this year, predicts continued success in college for the quick center fielder.
“His stroke plays early at the D-I level because of his ability to continually barrel balls. Even when his stroke isn’t right, he’s still able to barrel balls. He’s very advanced at the plate.”
Ashford braces, confidently, for another level of pitching in college.
“They throw harder and with better stuff,” he says. “But I’m ready to make the adjustment; I’ll get used to it, but it might take a couple at bats.”
Baseball Fab 50
- Grant Gambrell, pitcher/infielder, junior, Buchanan
- D.J. Martinez, pitcher, senior, Buchanan
- Ross Dodds, infielder, senior, Buchanan
- Michael Beltran, infielder, senior, Buchanan
- Nick Napoli, outfielder, senior, Bullard
- Nick Sheehan, infielder, junior, Bullard
- Matt Edlund, infielder/pitcher, senior, Caruthers
- Colton Eastman, pitcher, senior, Central
- Derick Kuhn, infielder, senior, Central
- Kelby Grissom, pitcher/infielder, senior, Chowchilla
- Tevin Mitchell, infielder, senior, Clovis
- Dakota Stilson, catcher, senior, Clovis
- Preston Mott, pitcher, senior, Clovis
- Jordon Yoshida, pitcher/outfielder, senior, Clovis West
- Ian Ross, infielder, junior, Clovis West
- Jon Schafer, catcher, senior, Clovis West
- Austin Johnson, pitcher, senior, Clovis West
- Matt Frazier, outfielder, junior, Clovis North
- Efrain Del Rio, infielder/pitcher, senior Dos Palos
- Andrew Carlin, pitcher, senior, Edison
- Alec Demaria, pitcher/infielder, senior, Edison
- Casey Wagnon, pitcher/outfielder, senior, Edison
- Adam Munoz, infielder, junior, El Diamante
- Alex Garcia, pitcher/infielder, senior Exeter
- Tyler Rumbaugh, pitcher/infielder, junior, Exeter
- Sam Metcalf, infielder/pitcher, senior, Farmersville
- Josh Acosta, pitcher/infielder, senior, Fresno
- Katir Prieto, pitcher/outfielder, junior, Fresno
- Ethan McRae, pitcher/infielder, senior, Hanford
- Leo Carillo, outfielder, senior, Hanford West
- Conner Friedline, infielder, senior, Hoover
- Thomas Camargo, pitcher, sophomore, Kerman
- Josh Sierra, pitcher/infielder, senior, Kingsburg
- Alec Gamboa, pitcher/outfielder, senior, Madera
- Fernando Galindo, infielder, senior, Madera
- Nick Zamora, infielder, junior, Madera
- Frankie Saldate, pitcher, senior, McLane
- Drew Engelman, catcher, senior, Memorial
- Noah Padilla, outfielder, senior, Memorial
- Jordan Prendiz, pitcher/outfielder, junior, Mt. Whitney
- Angel Flores, infielder, senior, Porterville
- Rickie Garcia, pitcher/infielder, senior, Redwood
- Eric Charles, outfielder, senior, Redwood
- Matt Salas, outfielder, senior, Reedley
- Jacob Evangelo, pitcher/outfielder, senior, Sierra Pacific
- Gabe Corona, catcher, senior, Sunnyside
- Jordan Padilla, pitcher/outfielder, senior, Tulare Western
- Kobe Portillo, pitcher, senior, Tulare Western
- Daniel Martinho, outfielder, senior, Tulare Western
- Zach Fesperman, infielder/pitcher, senior, Woodlake