Imagine being the pitching coach of the pitcher producing results rivaling the best in Central Section history.
OK, let’s be specific: Imagine being John Gross, the Buchanan High pitching coach for Jack Wheeless.
Gross broke it down to the simplest form after Wheeless, a junior left-hander, improved to 9-0 and an 0.37 earned-run average with his second consecutive no-hitter — a 6-0 Tri-River Athletic Conference win at Clovis East Tuesday night: “When a pitcher’s throwing three pitches for strikes, it’s a fun game to watch. Then it becomes a guessing game (for the hitters).”
Wheeless isn’t competing in an ordinary league.
Many, including Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis, regard the TRAC as arguably the finest in the state.
And Buchanan (20-2-1, 7-1), ranked No. 1 in the section and No. 7 in the state, leads the league by two games with seven remaining.
Wheeless, who also no-hit Central last week Tuesday in a 2-0 TRAC win, is one of seven players in section annals to pitch two straight no-hitters, section historian Bob Barnett says.
And only one — Selma’s Lloyd Allen, as a junior in 1967 — has thrown three in a row.
Wheeless will attempt to match Allen’s record next Tuesday in a 6:30 p.m. TRAC game at Clovis West.
“There’s a game that night?” Golden Eagles coach Kevin Patrick joked late Tuesday.
Wheeless will march into Stan Bledsoe Field with three consecutive shutouts and having given up only 26 hits in 57 innings for the season. He’s struck out 56 and walked 23.
Throwing primarily fastballs, plus a “dialed in” curveball and changeup, according to Gross, Wheeless struck out 11 against Clovis East, including the side in the seventh.
“I feel good, I feel great,” Wheeless says. “It’s awesome.”
Is there an explanation?
“I don’t know,” he says, “I’m doing the same thing since I was little — throw strikes, push through ’til the end and get it done.”
This isn’t as if Wheeless hasn’t got it done on the varsity level before, though not to this epic degree, of course.
Last year, while pitching behind seniors Dominic Topoozian and Holden Berger, he established himself against top-caliber competition as a sophomore — 5-2 with a 1.86 ERA and 60-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Buchanan coach Tom Donald and Gross emphasize two areas of Wheeless’ game — maturity and unflappable presence, in the dugout and on the bump.
Donald says: “He’s a pretty special player and it’s great to see his hard work paying off. He’s grown a lot. Last year, if he didn’t have his best stuff, he may not have pitched out of trouble. This year, he’s really turned the corner, mentally. I couldn’t be more happy and proud of that.”
Gross says: “He’s very relaxed, at ease, joking around in the dugout, and he takes it to the mound. He stays loose, and that helps him; he doesn’t sit there in the dugout and think about it too much, and that helps him.
“All his hard work is paying off. It’s a rare thing.”