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The best baseball of the decade; a comprehensive breakdown of all eight CUSD Central Section championship teams

Paul Meadors and Austin Kemp break down all the championship teams from 2010-2019: four Buchanan, three Clovis and one Clovis North. What made them stand out, the top dudes, and their road to the title. Which of these teams do you think is the best of the best? Read on and let the discussion begin.

Written by Paul Meadors and Austin Kemp

There’s little argument that baseball is king in the Central Section, more specifically in Clovis Unified. We like to think it’s the best baseball in the state – public or private – but hey, we’re just a tad biased. Consider the last decade; eight of the Central Section champions are CUSD schools including three teams – Buchanan in 2011 and 2016 and Clovis in 2014 – that finished No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. In addition, both Buchanan teams finished No. 1 in the nation in ESPN polls. 

Those are some pretty darn good baseball teams. 

Below you will find a comprehensive review of all eight Clovis Unified schools that won a section championship between 2010-2019. (If you’re wondering, Bullard defeated Clovis in 2012 and Stockdale beat Clovis West in 2018 in the championship game). So without further ado, please indulge yourself and take a trip down memory lane as we revisit some of the greatest teams – and players – you’ll ever see assembled.  

2010 Buchanan

Overall record: 29-5

League record: 11-4

Final rankings: State No. 8, National No. 32

Coach: Tom Donald

Playoffs: Central 10-6, Centennial 7-6 (8 innings), Clovis West 7-5

The 2010 Buchanan Bears celebrate at Stan Bledsoe Field after upsetting Clovis West 7-5 to win the Central Section title.

The team: The 2010 version of the Buchanan Bears was a squad fueled by a healthy mix of first-year starting seniors and a junior class that had collected high accolades going back to their elementary school days. Senior Drew Merlo helped anchor the pitching staff as the lefty was named the TRAC Pitcher of the Year and was named Cal-Hi Sports second team All-State. Juniors Jordan Luplow and Seth Moranda were also key pieces in Buchanan’s playoff run which ended by defeating Clovis West in the D-I Championship by a score of 7-5. Buchanan, who finished second in league play, lost all three regular season games to the TRAC champion Golden Eagles.

Top Dudes: 

  • Drew Merlo (LHP, Sr.): 12-1, 1.74 ERA in 72.1 IP. 89 strikeouts. Tied for the Buchanan school record for wins in a single season (12). TRAC Pitcher of the Year. Cal-Hi Sports second team all-state. Played at Fresno Pacific for four years.
  • Seth Moranda (RHP/SS, Jr.): .351 BA, 4 HRs, 10 doubles, 27 RBI. Complete game win vs. Clovis West in the Section title game. First-team Cal-Hi Sports All State.
  • Jordan Luplow (3B/RHP, Jr.): .419 BA, 6 HRs, 27 RBI. Second-team Cal-Hi Sports All State.
  • Jack Karraker (3B/1B/RHP, Sr.): 1.09 ERA in 19 IP. 4 saves. Went on to pitch at Fresno City College and then the University of Oregon.
  • Jason Gonzalez (2B/SS/OF, Jr.): .441 BA in 35 at-bats. Transferred from Clovis High School after football season of his junior year. Sat out to start the season.
  • Jensen Verhalen (OF, Sr.): .333 BA, 13 RBI.
  • Christian Parra (OF, Jr.): .357 BA, 10 RBI.
  • Steven Lozier (OF/DH, Sr.): .269 BA, 17 RBI, 3 HRs.
  • Sterling Cash (1B, Sr.): .270 BA, 15 RBI, 5 HRs.
  • Jimmy Funk (1B, Jr.): .278 BA, 2 HRs.
Junior Seth Moranda went a complete game on the mound to help secure Buchanan’s third section title in 2010.

How the title was won: After defeating Central in the quarterfinals 10-6, Buchanan needed an extra innings, walk-off win against Centennial in order to secure a spot in the D1 Section title. With a runner on second and two outs, the Hawks elected to intentionally walk Seth Moranda to get to Runge who would lace an RBI single through the infield to advance the Bears to the finals. Facing Clovis West and their #1 pitcher Eric Karch (Pepperdine), Buchanan would have their work cut out as the Golden Eagles had beaten them all three times in the regular season. In the top of the first inning, Steven Lozier turned on a pitch, belting it over the trees in right field of Stan Bledsoe Field to give Buchanan an early 3-0 lead. However, the Golden Eagles would claw back, eventually taking the lead 4-3 against Buchanan’s Moranda. Again the Bears would use the long ball as Jason Gonazlez hit a three-run HR to dead centerfield to put Buchanan up 6-4. Both Moranda and Karch would settle in the rest of the way, but it was the Bears who would hang on to beat Clovis West (who at one point was ranked No. 1 in the nation) 7-5. Moranda, like his brother Steven did in 2006, tossed a complete game win in the Section title game to upset Clovis West.

Highlights of three games below, courtesy of KSEE24.

2011 Buchanan 

Overall record: 30-2

League record: 14-1

Coach: Tom Donald

Rankings: State No. 1, National No. 1

Playoff run: Bullard 9-2, Clovis 5-1, Centennial 9-3

The 2011 Buchanan Bears captured the Central Section title with a 9-3 win over Centennial, finishing with a 30-2 record and also claiming an ESPN Fab 50 National Championship.

The team: The Bears entered 2011 as the preseason #1 team after having a plethora of returners from a Section title squad the year before. “Throw low strikes, put the ball in play hard, and make routine plays” is a phrase that you would hear over and over if you took in a Buchanan baseball practice that season. It was a team with college and professional talent, but they also took on a get-in-your-face type of attitude. The team’s 30 wins came each day in championship-level practices, while game days were treated as a time to let it all hang out.

One coach reached out to give his take on what it was like coaching the ‘11 Bears: “I’ve played on (and coached) a lot of teams with talent. When you have talented teams with extraordinary love and trust for each other, then you are unstoppable. That’s what 2011 had: starters and non-starters loving each other all the same. That was everything. The winning took care of itself because the team took care of eachother.” 

Buchanan’s exquisite season was all the more astonishing in that TRAC teams went an amazing 75-13 in non-league games, a record and winning percentage that no other year on this list can match. Team speed was what separated these Bears from the rest of the pack. Buchanan boasted a .319 team batting average, hit 18 home runs, and stole 78 bases. The team’s two starting pitchers (Seth Moranda & Dominic Topoozian) combined to throw 165 innings, racked up 169 strikeouts, and gave up just 26 earned runs. The Bears needed to push across just a couple runs each game to feel good about coming out on top. Buchanan would go on to beat state-ranked Centennial 9-3 earning not only the D-I Central Section title, but the right to call themselves ESPN Fab 50 National Champions.

Top dudes:

  • Seth Moranda (SS/RHP, Sr.): .306 BA, seven HR, 17 RBI, 14 stolen bases. 12-1 on the mound with 1.18 ERA in 83 IP. 91 Ks to just 15 BBs. 32 career pitching wins (most in school history). Cal-Hi Sports Male Athlete of the Year. Drafted in the 11th round by the Atlanta Braves. Most innings pitched in school history with 242. No TRAC player since 2011 has doubled as the starting shortstop and thrown 80+ innings as the #1 starting pitcher.
  • Jeff Brown (C, Sr.): .430 BA, 9 doubles, six HR. Buchanan single-season record holder for RBIs in a season with 40. Caught all but two innings in 2011. Fresno Bee Player of the Year. Cal-Hi Sports First Team All State. Played at Fresno City College and Fresno State.
  • Dominic Topoozian (RHP, Jr.): 11-0, 1.02 ERA in 82 IP. First-Team All State. 78:11 K-BB ratio. Played at Fresno City College and Fresno State. 
  • Shota Runge (2B, Sr.): .415 BA, 30 runs, 11 RBI, two HRs, 13 stolen bases. Second Team Cal-Hi Sports All State. Played at Fresno State.
  • Christian Parra (RF, Sr.): .393 BA, 18 runs, 24 RBI, 13 doubles, 9 stolen bases. Accepted a football scholarship to San Diego State before playing baseball at Fresno City College and then Fresno State.
  • Jordan Luplow (DH, Sr.): Played in just the last four games of the season due to having labrum surgery, DH’d and hit .385 with a HR. Mountain West Player of the Year at Fresno State in 2014 and was drafted in the 3rd round of the MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Currently with the Cleveland Indians big-league club. Watch highlights of 2-homer game against Chicago White Sox on May 14, 2019.
  • Jason Gonzalez (LF, Sr.): .337 BA, 25 runs, 31 RBI, 10 doubles.
  • Matt Krick (3B, Jr.) .377 BA, 9 runs, 12 RBI.
  • Kody Batesole (3B/SS, Soph.) 10 RBI, 13 runs. Moved around the infield when Moranda pitched.
  • Austin Kemp (CF, Sr.): .282 BA, 17 runs, 10 RBI, 15 stolen bases.
  • Pat Sylvia (1B, Jr.): Started every game at first-base.
  • Jeremy Vollberg (2B, Soph.): Filled in for the first nine games as Runge rehabbed an ankle injury.
  • Holden Berger (LHP, Jr.): 29 IP. Went on to play at Fresno City College and Cal-State Los Angeles.

How the title was won: In a rematch of the 2010 semifinals, Centennial once again traveled to Buchanan as the Bears aimed to win back-to-back section titles. Buchanan beat Clovis 5-1 in the previous round behind Moranda’s complete game. Centennial ace pitcher Grant Watson, who would later pitch in the College World Series for UCLA, opposed Topoozian on the mound as the top two seeds squared off. There were plenty of first-inning fireworks as the Bears exploded for five runs in the bottom half of the inning. A Runge single followed by a Brown double put runners on second and third with one out. Gonzalez helped open the scoring as he hit a chopper to the left side of the infield, which got under the shortstop’s glove, scoring two. RBI singles from Matt Krick (scoring Luplow), Joe Lynes (scoring Gonzalez) and Kemp (scoring Krick) would run the total to five. Krick and Gonzalez would add a couple more RBIs and Topoozian went the distance to secure the school’s first National Championship. In fact, this would be Buchanan’s only Section title win that was played on their campus.

Highlights of three games below, courtesy of KSEE24.

2013 Clovis North  

Overall record: 26-7

League record: 11-4

Coach: Chris Patrick

Rankings: State No. 5, National No. 24

Playoff run: Frontier 4-0, Clovis 6-5, Stockdale 13-2

The 2013 Clovis North Broncos celebrate on their home field after beating Stockdale 13-2 to win the Central Section title, their first and only in school history.

The Team: The 2013 Clovis North squad was well-balanced, jelling at just the right time to win the school’s one and only Central Section title under head coach Chris Patrick. Led by a strong junior class that included All-State and Fresno Bee Player of the Year Jack Labosky and defensive stalwart Braden Frankfort at catcher and senior shortstop Christian Rossi, who Patrick called “one of the best athletes I ever had the privilege of coaching”, the Broncos left no doubt in the D-I championship game, defeating Stockdale 13-2 after coming back to defeat Clovis 6-5 in the semi-finals. “It was a tough, battle tested group of kids. Just a bunch of great kids and great families that I will cherish my relationships with forever,” Patrick said.  

Top Dudes:

  • Jack Labosky (3B, P, Jr.): .437 BA, 25 runs, 22 RBI, three HR, 11-0 record, 0.81 ERA and 81 strikeouts. First Team Cal-Hi Sports. Third Team All-American and All-ACC at Duke and named a semifinalist for the eighth annual John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award, drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in round 22 in 2018 as a pitcher.
  • Christian Rossi (SS, Sr.): .313 BA, 29 runs, 22 RBI, four HR,  Second team Cal-Hi Sports. QB on Central Section championship team in 2012. Attended Cal State Fullerton then played football at Fresno City and Fresno State.
  • Braden Frankfort (C, Jr.): .304 BA, 10 RBI, threw out seven of nine potential base runners. Drafted in the 26th round by San Francisco Giants after playing at Fresno Pacific for two seasons.  
  • Connor Fugman (OF, Jr.): .372 BA, 12 runs, 18 RBI.
  • Trent Ashford (P, Sr.): three wins, 2.60 ERA, 36 Ks, 37 2/3 innings, played at Fresno Pacific University.
  • Nick Perez (P, Sr.): 6-1, 2.48 ERA, 28 K, 36 2/3 innings.
  • Koby Cummings (RF, Jr.): .345 BA, 19 runs, 15 RBI, two HR.
  • C.J. Taggett (2B, Sr.): .301 BA, 12 runs, nine SBs.

Clovis North stats courtesy of Central Section historian Bob Barnett.

How the title was won

With the Broncos seeded No. 2, Patrick handed the ball to Labosky to open the playoffs and he responded with a 4-0 shutout against Frontier, the second time he shut out the Titans during the year. Game 2 was a different story as the Broncos quickly found themselves trailing by five runs to Clovis (coached by father James) before rallying for a 6-5 win behind 4 ⅓ hitless relief innings from Ashford. They played the title game in the friendly confines of home after No. 4 Stockdale upset No. 1 Buchanan 3-2 in eight innings three days earlier. The Broncos drew first blood in the 3rd inning when Rossi hit a leadoff double followed by a C.J. Taggett HBP, and with one out Labosky hammered a 2-RBI double in right center followed by a Frankfort RBI single. In the 4th the Broncos would score six more runs highlighted by a Cummings’ RBI double and Connor Fugman’s two-run single for a 9-0 lead. Rossi crushed a three-run home run in the bottom of the 6th for a 13-2 lead while Labosky went the distance on the mound for his second playoff complete game. The entire game can be viewed here.

2014 Clovis 

Overall record: 33-5

League record: 12-3

Coach: James Patrick

Final rankings: State No. 1, National No. 5

Playoff run: Central 3-1, Clovis West 4-0, Buchanan 3-2

The Clovis Cougars captured the 2014 Central Section title with a 3-2 win over Buchanan, finishing with a 33-5 record and No. 1 ranking by Cal-Hi Sports. (PHOTO BY MARK TENNIS OF CAL-HI SPORTS)

The team: A loaded team in every sense of the word, the 2014 Cougars finished No. 1 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports with a power-packed lineup, speed to burn, great defense, and excellent pitching. The James Patrick-led squad gained national attention at the National High School Invitational in Florida by starting 3-0 before losing in the championship game 5-3 to The First Academy. If not for losing that game, they very well could have ended the campaign ranked No. 1 in the nation. “It was a solid team and a solid high school lineup. Pick your poison was the way we looked at it,” Coach Patrick said about the lineup. As a team they hit 10 home runs, stole 37 bases, and were caught just once, all while boasting a sparkling team ERA of 1.61. Led by seniors Jake Gatewood (drafted 41st overall by the Milwaukee Brewers and won the 2013 Amateur Home Run Derby at City Field during All-Star Weekend) and future Fresno State star McCarthy Tatum, they beat rival Buchanan 3-2 for the D-I Central Section title in a legendary tension-filled game that shined with talent.

Top dudes:

  • Jacob Gatewood (SS, Sr.): .389 BA, 10 2B, 24 runs, five HR, 28 RBI, First Team Cal-Hi Sports, drafted No. 41 overall by Milwaukee Brewers in 2014.
  • McCarthy Tatum (3B/RHP, Sr.): .296 BA, 26 runs, 17 RBI, 11-1 on mound, 1.79 ERA, 65 K, First Team Cal-Hi Sports, 2019 Mountain West Player of the Year in 2019, drafted in 24th round by Philadelphia Phillies.
  • Tevin Mitchell (2B, Jr.): .354 BA, two HR, 30 runs, 28 RBI, 9 SB, played at USCB and drafted in 8th round in 2018 after attending UCSB. 
  • Preston Mott (P, Sr.): 8-1, 1.07 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 66:14 K to BB ratio, attended UCSD where he registered career marks of 27-10 and a 3.39 career ERA earning Academic All-American honors.
  • Alan Crowley (C, Sr.): .282 BA, 23 runs, 15 RBI, Second Team Cal-Hi Sports, drafted in 26th round by Atlanta Braves in 2016 out of Reedley College.
  • Cody Murray (P, Sr.): .291 BA, 17 runs, 18 RBI, 8-0 on mound, 1.84 ERA, Third Team Cal-Hi Sports.
  • Evan Steele (CF, Sr.): .292 BA, 19 runs, 7 SB.
  • R.J. Hartman (1B, Sr.): .270 BA, 20 runs, 17 RBI.
  • Matt Sparks (OF, Sr.): .289 BA, 17 runs, 12 RBI.
Jacob Gatewood was drafted No. 41 (Round 1) in the 2014 MLB Draft, the highest Central Section draft pick since McKay Christensen drafted No. 6 in 1993.

How the title was won: Seeded No. 1, Clovis faced familiar TRAC foes in the playoffs, defeating Central 3-1 and Clovis West 4-0 before facing No. 2 Buchanan, a team they had beaten two out of three times already, in the final. In front of a packed crowd at Rawhide Stadium in Visalia, after taking a 2-run lead in the 3rd inning on an R.J. Hartman bases loaded double, the Bears eventually tied the game in the 5th inning on a Ross Dodd RBI double down the right field line before the thrilling 7th inning. With one out Tatum walked, followed by a deep fly ball by Mitchell that was run down by Trenton Kemp. Gatewood then walked and a botched pick-off play at second put runners on second and third with Crowley up and first base open. Crowley promptly lined a single into left field, scoring Tatum and giving the Cougars first of three titles during the decade. 

2015 Buchanan 

Coach: Tom Donald

Overall record: 29-4

League record: 13-2

Rankings: State No. 6, National No. 12

Playoff run: Clovis North 9-1, Tulare Western 6-1, Clovis 15-1

The Buchanan Bears left no doubt as they rolled over Clovis 15-1 to capture the Central Section title. Conner Loeprich went a complete game on the mound and Chandler Bengtson hit a grand slam.

The team: Perhaps no team in the section has had a more dominant playoff run than the 2015 Bears, who finished No. 12 in the country according to Maxpreps’ Xcellent 25 rankings. Buchanan had a dominant pitching staff to go along with a potent offense led by future Fresno State Bulldog Zach Ashford and Chandler Bengtson. In fact, Buchanan’s run differential of +149 was head and shoulders above any other TRAC team with Clovis being second best at +57. Right-hander Conner Loeprich helped deliver the school’s fifth section title as the senior went a complete game in the championship as the Bears routed Clovis 15-1.

Top dudes

  • Zach Ashford (CF, Sr.): .478 BA, 27 stolen bases as a senior. Fresno Bee Player of the Year, First team all-state. Went on to play at Fresno State and was taken in the 6th round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the New York Mets.
  • Conner Loeprich (RHP, Sr.): Complete game three-hitter in the 2015 Section title win vs. Clovis. 1.31 career ERA at Buchanan in 197 IP. Pitched at St. Mary’s and was taken in the 20th round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
  • Chandler Bengtson (1B/DH, Sr.): .365 BA, 30 RBIs, 7 HRs while earning second team all-state honors from Cal-Hi Sports. 2015 Fresno Bee Offensive Player of the Year. Played college baseball at Columbia where he became the school’s all-time HR leader (and 5th in Ivy League history) with 31.
  • Ross Dodds (3B, Sr.): .386 batting average and 3 HRs. Cal-Hi Sports third team all-state selection. Finished baseball career at Fresno Pacific and currently coaches varsity baseball at Buchanan.
  • DJ Martinez (RHP, Sr.): Team’s #2 pitcher went 11-1 on the mound with a 1.12 ERA.
  • Michael Beltran (2B, Sr.): .277 BA, scored 23 runs and 9 stolen bases. Played at Fresno City College for two years and then finished at Utah Valley.
  • Levi Zosky (SS, Sr.): Two-year starting shortstop at Buchanan and then played at Westmont College.
  • Grant Gambrell (1B/RHP, Jr.): 4-1 record on the mound with a 2.02 ERA. .434 batting average with 19 RBIs. All State, First team All-TRAC.
  • Zach Presno (C, Soph.): Second team all-TRAC.

How the title was won: The Bears were seeded No. 1 and were awarded with a first-round and then steamrolled their first two opponents – Clovis North 9-1 and Tulare Western 6-1. The section title game vs. Clovis was played on a Saturday at Rawhide Park. With Buchanan winning the season series 2-1 over the Cougars and in a revenge spot from a year ago, there was confidence surrounding the team and the coaching staff as the game drew nearer. After two scoreless innings by Loeprich, Buchanan came to the plate in the bottom of the second and took charge of the game when senior Tyler Botorff, pinch-hitting for Presno, opened the scoring with a one-out single scoring JT Arruda. After scoring another run and then loading the bases, Chandler Bengtson launched a Zach Whittaker fastball over the centerfield hitter’s eye for a 6-0 lead. Bengtson ended with 6 RBI on the night and Ashford reached base all five times he came to the plate. Conner Loeprich went a complete game, giving up three hits as the Bears eventually ran the total to 15-1. It was Buchanan’s third title of the decade and their first at Rawhide Park. 

2016 Buchanan 

Overall record: 30-1

League record: 14-1

Coach: Tom Donald

Rankings: State No. 1, National No. 1

Playoff run: Liberty 9-1, Bullard 5-3, Clovis North 4-0

The 2016 Buchanan Bears were named National Champions after going 30-1 and beating Clovis North 4-0 to capture back-to-back Central Section titles.

The team: College and professional talent filled this Buchanan roster as the 2016 Bears finished No. 1 in the nation with a handful of all-state selections scattered throughout the lineup. Buchanan’s only loss in 2016 came to Clovis North in an early April game the Broncos won 12-5. Tom Donald’s final section championship squad at Buchanan started the season with 17 straight wins after starting the preseason ranked in the state by a handful of media outlets. The team was named the Cal-Hi Sports Team of the Decade.

The Bears were led on the mound by senior right-hander Grant Gambrell who received All-American honors while Quentin Selma was named The Fresno Bee Offensive Player of the Year. Buchanan marched to the school’s third-straight section title appearance where they shut out the Clovis North Broncos 3-0 for the D-I title.

Top dudes

  • Grant Gambrell (RHP/1B, Sr.): 12-0 record, 0.69 ERA in 71 IP. 72-17 K/BB ratio. Hit .363 at the plate with 5 HRs and 35 RBI. Finalist for Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Baseball. Was on the 2018 Oregon State College World Series team and was taken in the third round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals.
  • Quentin Selma (3B/RHP, Jr.): .443 BA, 4 HRs, 29 RBIs, 10 doubles. 1.31 ERA and 6 saves in 16 IP. Fresno Bee Offensive Player of the Year. First team All-State (2016). Went on to play at Cal and was an All-Pac 12 first team selection in 2019.
  • Jamal O’Guinn (SS, Jr.): .343 BA, 25 RBI, 1 HR. First team All-State (2016) and currently plays at USC.
  • JT Arruda (2B, Sr.): .344 BA, 8 stolen bases. Went on to play at Fresno State. First team All-Mountain West (2019), taken in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals.
  • Zach Presno (C, Jr.): .338 BA, 6 HRs, 25 RBI. Perfect Game All-American (2016), first team All-State (2016). Currently plays at Fresno State and had eight HRs through the team’s first 16 games before the 2020 season was cancelled.
  • Hunter Reinke (RHP, Jr.): 11-0 record, 2.02 ERA in 63 IP.
  • Chase Rocamora (OF, Sr.): .400 BA in 50 ABs. 
  • Alex Peralta (OF, Sr.): .346 BA, 9 RBIs..
  • Cory Williams (OF/1B, Sr.): .340 BA in 47 ABs, 1 HR.
  • Matt McGrady (1B/DH, Jr.): .429 BA in 29 ABs. Went on to play at Fresno Pacific.

How the title was won: No. 1 Buchanan faced off against Clovis North for the D1 final at Rawhide Park after defeating Liberty 9-1 and Bullard 5-3 in previous rounds. Meeting for the first (and only) time in a section championship game, JT Arruda, Quentin Selma, and Grant Gambrell would all reach safely in the bottom of the first inning. Zach Presno then delivered a 2-RBI double to give the Bears an early lead. Chris Lopez would add a sacrifice fly in the same inning to make it 3-0. That’s all Gambrell would need as the senior capped a phenomenal career by striking out 12 Bronco batters, going the distance for the complete game shutout. The win would give the Buchanan baseball program their sixth section title and their second National Championship in school history. According to Cal-Hi Sports, only 11 teams in state history have won a section title with zero or one loss. 2016 Buchanan is among those.

2017 Clovis

Overall record: 25-7-1

League record: 10-5

Final rankings: State No. 10, National No. 80

Coach: James Patrick

Playoffs: Tulare Western 6-5, Stockdale 7-5, Buchanan 2-1

The 2017 Clovis Cougars defeated Buchanan 2-1 to capture the Central Section title when Connor Jorgensen scored on a wild pitch in the top of the 6th .

The team: Though less talented than the 2014 team that finished No. 1 in the state, this 2017 squad was gritty and gutsy, filled with a bunch of guys who grew up on the diamond together. However, despite only hitting one team home run all season, Five of their seven losses were in league, including four in a row when they were swept by Buchanan and Clovis West they clutched up in the playoffs when it matters most. Offensively they were led by seniors Chet Allison, Mason Grotto, Tyson Fraser and Clayton Alexander and sophomore catcher Darrien Milller. Pitchers Darby Tatum (brother of 2014 grad McCarthy) and Blake Sodersten were an excellent 1-2 punch on the mound. In winning the school’s eighths title, the Cougars broke the hearts of a powerful Buchanan team once again, this time on a legendary play by tough-nosed senior.

Top dudes

  • Chet Allison (CF/RHP, Sr.): .378 BA, 13 2B, 26 runs, 6-1, 3.11 ERA, 1st Team Cal-Hi Sports, Second Team All-State, 2019 CVC Player of the Year at Fresno City where he hit .446, 11 HRs, 50 RBI, 17 SB, drafted 24th round by Los Angeles Dodgers
  • Darby Tatum (LHP, Sr.): 13-2, 1.56 ERA, 68 Ks, 89 ⅓ innings, First Team Cal-Hi Sports
  • Tyson Fraser (LF, Sr.): .298, 26 runs, 17 SB
  • Clayton Alexander (1B, Sr.): .286, 18 RBI
  • Mason Grotto (SS, Sr.): .343, 23 RBI, 21 Runs
  • Connor Jorgensen (CF, Sr.): .290, 21 runs, 11 SB
  • Darrien Miller (C, So.): .253, 18 RBI
  • Blake Sodersten (RHP, Jr.): 4-2, 2.05 ERA, 55 Ks, 61 ⅓ innings

How the title was won: The third seeded Cougars had one of the most dramatic playoff runs in the decade. After a first round bye and down 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth with two outs at home against No. 6 Tulare Western, Massey hit a 2-run bases-loaded single to advance to play at No. 2 Stockdale when Clovis went up 4-0 early. However, the Mustangs would eventually tie the game at five with a chance to win it in the bottom of the 7th when Alexander threw out a runner at the plate on a ground ball to first to send the game to extra innings. In the top of the eighth Grotto gave the Cougars the lead on a single to left, lifting them to a 7-5 win and date against No. 1 Buchanan, a team they had lost to four times during the season which boasted a roster of eight future D-I college players. In the championship game at Rawhide Stadium in Visalia, Tatum, two days after throwing 3 ⅔ in relief at Stockdale, scattered four hits allowing only one run in 6 ⅓ innings. But the defining play would take place in the top of the 6th when Jorgensen led off with a double, then moved to third on a groundout, before making a mad dash to home on a wild pitch by Jacob King, sliding in just before the tag for the game-winning run and dramatic 2-1 victory. 

2019 Clovis

Overall record: 20-11

League record: 8-7

Final rankings: State No. 18, National No. 261

Coach: James Patrick

Playoff run: Stockdale 3-2, Clovis North 5-2, San Luis Obispo 7-5, Frontier 14-3

The 2019 Clovis Cougars at one point were 9-10 but won 11 of its last 12 to claim the Central Section title in coach James Patrick’s final year.

The team: A fairytale ending in the last season of legendary coach James Patrick’s coaching career, this team did it the hard way, grinding through a tough start with a storybook finish. On April 11, the Cougars were 9-10 but caught fire on their way to the school’s 9th title, all under Patrick, culminating with a wild and wacky 14-3 win over Frontier. They were led by catcher Darrien Miller, the left-handed hitting leadoff hitter that was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 9th round, a great hitting year from junior Noah Beal and a decent pitching staff who came together and made clutch pitches late in the year. Patrick finished as the winningest baseball coach in section history compiling a 752-272-3 career record which included two seasons at San Joaquin Memorial (1983-1984) and 32 at Clovis (1988-2019), according to Central Section historian Bob Barnett.

Top dudes:

  • Darrien Miller (C, Sr.): .398 BA, 36 runs, 19 RBI, 3 HR, 14 SB, First Team Cal-Hi Sports, zero errors, drafted 9th round (283 overall) by Milwaukee Brewers and signed
  • Noah Beal (1B/P, Jr.): .356 BA, 31 runs, 19 RBI, 2 HR, 2.79 ERA, 7-2 record, 39 K, 57 ⅔ innings
  • Koby Kropf (OF, Jr.): .312 BA, 20 runs, 23 RBI, nine 2B, 2 HR
  • Miles Henderson (2B, Jr.): .356 BA, 15 RBI, 1.45 ERA, 7 saves 
  • Ian Mortensen (OF, Jr.): .312 BA, 21 RBI
  • Justin Tiger (SS, Sr.): .268 BA, 20 runs, 16 RBI
  • Zach Jiminez (P, Sr.): 3.22 ERA, 8-3 record, 55 K, 63 innings
  • Josiah Penberthy (P, Sr.): two wins, 3.26 ERA, 17 appearances, one save

How the title was won: 

The Cougars were seeded No. 2 the D-I bracket that featured a full 16 teams meaning they had to win four games. After squeaking by Stockdale 3-2 at home they faced No. 3 Clovis North on the road and star pitcher Riley Cooper, a team they not only had beaten them three times but had held the Cougars to only 2 runs combined in those games. They would beat Cooper 5-2 and were rewarded by having to go on the road to face No. 2 San Luis Obispo and splendid Arizona-State signee Cooper Benson, a lefty who had given up only three earned runs in 58 innings. Up on Clovis 5-3 in the sixth, the Tigers brought in Benson but Justin Tiger tied the game with a single and the Cougars would score two off Benson in the 7th for a 7-5 win, setting up the title game against No. 8 Frontier, an upset winner over No. 1 Buchanan. 

In one of the strangest playoff games in recent memory, the championship at Fresno State was postponed in the bottom of the third inning because of rain. The final three innings were played four days later at Lloyd Merriman Stadium. The weather delay put a charge in Clovis. Leading 4-2 with one out when the game resumed, the Cougars would score nine runs with two outs, including a two-run single by Sanchez in his second at bat of the 4th as the Cougars sent a total of 14 batters to the plate before a stunned Frontier had seen a single pitch. Kropf totaled three hits with three runs and one RBI while Justin Tiger homered, his first of the season, in a 14-3 win, sending Patrick off into the sunset with his 9th title and a lifetime of Clovis memories.  

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