Buchanan High wasn’t going to ruin this prime opportunity again.
Slugger Chandler Bengtson made sure of it.
With his Paul Bunyan-like size to go with a bruising Bunyan-like swing, Bengtson bashed a grand slam to the deepest part of the park — a shot to dead-center over the 405-feet marker at Rawhide Ballpark that began the unseating of defending champion Clovis on Saturday night.
Buchanan amassed 12 hits, seven of which went for extra bases, to avenge its championship loss to Clovis a year ago by handing the Cougars their worst defeat of the season, winning the Central Section Division I title game 15-1.
“As a coach you couldn’t draw it up any better,” Buchanan coach Tom Donald said. “Getting hot at the right time and then peaking at the end. This team did that.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Buchanan (29-4) seized the fifth section championship in program history and finished 3-1 against Tri-River Athletic Conference rival Clovis (24-11) this season.
Buchanan might’ve won last year’s championship, too, had the Bears not left multiple runners stranded in key moments before falling 3-2.
But Saturday, there was just too much Bengtson for Clovis to deal with.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Bengtson, who towers over many of his teammates and opposing players, batted 3 for 4 with a grand slam, two doubles and six RBIs.
Bengtson’s grand slam gave Buchanan a 6-0 lead with two outs in the second inning.
“It was a fastball,” Bengtson said about the at-bat before getting interrupted.
“And then it went boom,” one of Bengtson’s teammates chimed in to complete his sentence.
The championship performance marked the third most runs by the Bears scored this season.
Bears leadoff hitter and center fielder Zach Ashford, who had a .477 average entering the game, finished 1 for 2 with a triple and three runs.
Second baseman Michael Beltran batted 1 for 3 with two runs and four RBIs. Designated hitter Grant Gambrell batted 2 for 3 with a double, one run and one RBI.
“One of our biggest things was we wanted to be the 2015 team and not worry about last year,” said Bengtson, who will play at Columbia next year. “But it’s been a big deal all year to get the key hits and be the guy to do it.”
Complementing Buchanan’s offensive onslaught was starting pitcher Conner Loeprich’s near gem in going the distance. The senior limited the Cougars to three hits, struck out five and induced three double plays. He did not allow a run until the sixth inning.
3 for 4, a HR, two doubles, six RBIsBengtson’s final line
It was all smiles and joking for the Bears until a couple minutes into the post-game celebration. Buchanan, with an excessive championship game roster size that more resembled a football team, formed a dog pile on the infield.
Loeprich’s leg got tangled in the layers of bodies and apparently suffered a knee injury that forced him to be taken from the field by stretcher. His status was not know late Saturday.
The celebration injury concluded a fairly bizarre night.
During the top of the fourth inning, Clovis first baseman Clayton Alexander hit into a double play, slammed his helmet, exchanged words with Loeprich, then was ejected for cursing and retreated to the concession stands.
Buchanan wins fifth Central section title (2005, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2015)
The ejection seemed out of character for the Cougars. Then again, so was their performance.
Before the championship, the most runs Clovis surrendered came in a 10-5 loss to Tulare Western on Feb. 19.
The Cougars used four pitcher against Buchanan, with none finding any success.
Starter Zac Whittaker took the loss after allowing seven runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks in four innings. The next three Clovis relievers gave up at least two runs each.
Buchanan finished this playoff run outscoring their three opponents a combined 30-3.
“What we tried to do was put (our) own stamp on things,” Donald said. “ ‘What was the signature you would leave behind?’ They’ve done that and then some. They’re really set the bar high for the next group. And I’m very happy for them.”