The Buchanan Bears have set the gold standard for Central Section Baseball over the past decade — the Bears can boast a national championship (2011) to any doubters.
And the Bears are in position to raise the bar even higher tonight at Recreation Park for the Central Section Division I championship game.
“It means a lot to get back to (Recreation Park) one more time,” Buchanan senior Ross Dodds said after Wednesday’s semifinal win over Tulare Western. “We have a big chip on our shoulders from last year. We have some unfinished business to take care of.”
Top-seeded Buchanan aims for its fifth Central Section Division I championship plaque when it takes on Clovis in the main event of the Central Section Baseball Championships today at Recreation Park.
“I think the reason we’re going back to the championship game is that this team has worked their butts off from day one,” Buchanan coach Tom Donald said Wednesday. “They stuck with the program, and are determined to win.”
Dodds, who played at Tulare Western during his freshman and sophomore years, leads a powerful Bears lineup that features several college baseball recruits — Dodds is a signed recruit of Fresno State. Buchanan and Clovis, who also met in last year’s Division I final, will battle for the 2015 Division I championship at 8 p.m. today. Clovis won last year’s Division I title game, 3-2. Here’s a capsule look at today’s Central Section title games:
No. 2 Golden Valley (23-8) vs. No. 4 Firebaugh (28-7)
Game time: 9:30 a.m.
Golden Valley buzz: The Bulldogs are making their second appearance of the season at Recreation Park. Exeter defeated Golden Valley 5-0 in the lower-division title game of the Tulare/Visaila Invitational on April 1. The Bulldogs are expected to send senior stalwart Austin Toerner (7-3, 1.42 ERA) to the mound. He pitched three innings in Wednesday’s 8-4 semifinal win over Chowchilla, which means he can pitch seven innings today. Toerner pitched eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 10-inning quarterfinal win over Taft last week. Quality pitching options after Toerner are senior Josh Hernandez (9-1, 1.44) and sophomore Chris Rodriguez (1-2, 2.55). Toerner is also a top hitter (.389 batting average). The other top bats include Blesam Sadang (.378 batting average, 39 runs) and Hernandez (.390 batting average, 26 RBIs).
Firebaugh buzz: The Eagles finished second in the West Sierra League and advanced to the finals with playoff wins over ibCorcoran (6-1), Immanuel (5-4) and Dos Palos (6-0). Jason Allen has put up some of the better run-producing numbers amongst the lower divisions. Allen is hitting .356 with nine home runs (24 extra-base hits) and 30 RBIs. Jordan Martinez owns a .379 batting average with 36 runs and 12 stolen bases. Sal Alaniz, a senior, is expected to receive the start. Alaniz is 9-2 with a 2.15 earned run average. He has posted two no-hitters this season to go with 54 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings.
The skinny: Could be a very close game with two of the top Division IV pitchers expected to be in action — Toerner and Alaniz. Firebaugh has put together an impressive postseason run, and has been consistent in scoring runs (17 over three games). Golden Valley offense is hit-and-miss. With that stated, edge is still with the higher-seed Bulldogs.
No. 2 Ridgeview (20-8) vs. No. 5 Garces (13-16)
Game time: 1 p.m.
Ridgeview buzz: The Wolf Pack was just a game behind co-South Yosemite League champions Golden Valley and Tehachapi. Brandon Baxter (3-5, 2.92 ERA), a junior, is the projected starting pitcher. He has fared reasonably well against quality competition (he pitched against Redwood and Tulare Western this season). Pitching is the team’s top strength (2.10 team ERA). Chase Stebbins (6-1, 1.52 ERA), the staff ace, pitched seven innings on Wednesday. He can pitch three innings today. Stebbins also is the most dangerous threat in the lineup, hitting. .382 with 22 RBIs.
Garces buzz: Playing in the Southwest Yosemite League, the most formidable circuit in the Bakersfield area, wreaked havoc on the Rams’ record (5-10 in league). The parochial school has won a couple of close postseason games, defeating Kingsburg 4-3 in the quarterfinals and edging Independence 6-4 in Wednesday’s semifinals. The Rams feature two outstanding hitters in Hudson Hartley (.417, 24 RBIs) and Reece Males (.370, 34 RBIs, 5 HRs). Hartley is probably the best choice to pitch for the Rams. He has a 5-4 record with a 3.59 ERA, and 602 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings.
The skinny: These two schools did not meet during the regular season despite both of them being from the Bakersfield area. They did meet twice last year with each team winning a 5-3 decision over the other. This one is a toss-up.
No. 1 Farmersville (17-7) vs. No. 2 McFarland (14-9)
Game time: 4:30 p.m.
Farmersville buzz: The Aztecs return to the Division VI championship game. They fell 3-2 to Minarets in last year’s Division VI title game. Farmersville captured a share of the East Sierra League title with a 10-2 record. Farmersville defeated RFK 5-3 in the quarterfinals, and edged Parlier 2-1 in the semifinals. One of the top pitchers for the Aztecs is senior Sam Metcalf, a two-time Times-Delta/Advance-Register offensive player of the year in football. Metcalf earned the win in the victory over Parlier. The Aztecs are on a nine-game winning streak
McFarland buzz: The Cougars advanced to the section final with playoff wins over Frazier Mountain (1-0) and Orosi (6-3). Their last loss was to Wasco on April 22.
The skinny: Great way to decide the “outright” East Sierra League champion. They split their two league meetings. McFarland won 3-2 at home on March 17. Farmersville returned the favor with a 10-6 home win over the Cougars on April 17.
No. 1 Buchanan (28-4) vs. No. 3 Clovis (24-10)
Game time: 8 p.m.
Buchanan report: The Bears are one of the top teams in the nation. Baseball America magazine ranks Buchanan No. 24 in the nation. CalHiSports ranks the Bears No. 5 in the state. The Bears’ lineup could be a nightmare for any of the section’s elite pitchers, starting with leadoff hitter Zach Ashford (.477 batting average, 27 stolen bases). The top two run producers are their corner infielders — first baseman Chandler Bengston (.345, 6 home runs, 24 RBIs) and third baseman Ross Dodds (.386, three home runs, 27 RBIs, 13 extra-base hits). Tonight’s projected starting pitcher is senior right-hander Connor Loepritch, who’s been sensational all season (8-0, 1.37 ERA, 37 hits allowed in 56 1/3innings). Grant Gambrell (2.20 ERA, 39 strikeouts in 35 innings) and Quentin Selma (1.13 ERA, 5 saves) are likely to be the top two late-inning options. D.J. Martinez, who was masterful in the 6-1 semifinal win over Tulare Western, can pitch four innings.
Clovis report: The defending Division I champion Cougars are aiming for their eighth Central Section baseball championship. The seven titles have all occurred since 1995. Starting pitcher for the Cougars tonight is expected to be left-hander Zac Whittaker, who was honored as the outstanding pitcher of the Fresno Easter Classic for a second straight year in April. The Cougars’ first two losses this year were to two of Tulare County’s finest — El Diamante beat Clovis 7-3 and Tulare Western defeated Clovis 10-5 during the season-opening Coca-Cola Classic. The Cougars have outscored their three playoff foes (Clovis East, Clovis West, Centennial) by a combined 20-2 score. Buchanan is the only Clovis foe that has scored more than two runs against the Cougars since April 1.
The skinny: Can’t ask for a better matchup in terms of section prestige. Both teams can claim a national championship under their current head coaches — James Patrick for Clovis and Buchanan’s Tom Donald. Both teams average over 20 victories a season during the decorated tenures of their head coaches. Buchanan won two of the three Tri-River Athletic Conference games between the two clubs. The Bears won 1-0 on March 24 and 5-3 on April 28. Clovis defeated Buchanan 5-3 on May 1. The two teams met in last year’s Division I final with Clovis winning 3-2.
How to attend
The Central Section Baseball Championships are today at Recreation Park. Today’s games begin at 9:30 a.m. (Division IV), 1 p.m. (Division III), 4:30 p.m. (Division VI) and 8 p.m. (Division I). Reserved tickets are $10. General admission is $8 for adults, and $6 for students and seniors. The ballpark will be emptied after each game.