The buzz, naturally, surrounds Buchanan High’s Jack Wheeless as he opposes Clovis West Tuesday night after throwing consecutive no-hitters against Central and Clovis East.
The junior left-hander will arrive for the 6:30 p.m. Tri-River Athletic Conference game at Stan Bledsoe Field with a 9-0 record, 0.37 earned-run average and having pitched 15 2/3 innings without giving up a hit.
A one-out, sixth-inning single to Clovis’ McCarthy Tatum on April 3 was the last hit Wheeless has surrendered.
Fine, but don’t forget about the other guy.
It was almost a year ago to the day — April 24, 2012 — that Clovis West’s Marco Pierce exploded onto the scene by delivering four innings of perfect relief in a 4-3 win at Buchanan.
Pierce, who had pitched only seven innings before that game, struck out nine, including the last eight batters he faced.
Seven months later, he was signed a substantial scholarship to play for the University of Oregon.
And, Tuesday night, the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder will take the ball in what promises to be a pitch-for-pitch duel with Wheeless.
Pierce is 7-2 with a 2.40 ERA, and is 9-2 in two seasons, having struck out 91 with only 23 walks and 53 hits allowed in 72 1/3 innings.
The Golden Eagles’ cleanup batter is also hitting .338 this season with seven doubles, two home runs and 13 RBIs
“Marco’s having a great year,” Clovis West coach Kevin Patrick says, “and everytime he goes out, it’s been in pressure situations. I know he’ll focus on what he can control (against Buchanan). Maybe the pressure will be on (Wheeless).
“Obviously, Buchanan is a great rival, and rightfully so. Our kids are excited. They are starting to play at a higher level and with more confidence.”
Buchanan, ranked No. 1 in the Central Section and No. 6 in the state, is 21-2-1 overall and 8-1 atop the TRAC. Clovis West, ranked No. 4 in the section, is 16-8 and 4-5.
The Eagles are a cut above their version that opened the season two months ago.
Reasons? Two, primarily — Christian Funk and Wes Hatten.
Funk, a junior center fielder who has played only 13 games after becoming eligible, is hitting .442 with seven doubles, three home runs and 13 RBIs.
Hatten, just now finding his stride after spraining an ankle to close the basketball season, is hitting .353 in his past five games after being elevated to the leadoff role.
“He’s made our offense a little more dangerous,” Patrick says.
Also hitting well are David Lima (.324), Joey Gallegos (.319, 16 RBIs) and Jon Schafer (.304).
But what to do with Wheeless, who has given up but 26 hits in 57 innings?
“He’s a polished high school pitcher who has great command of all his pitches, and will throw them on any count,” Patrick says. “What he’s done is awfully special.”