Jimmy McClenaghan can’t tell you what will happen Thursday when his Gregori High baseball team plays St. Mary’s High in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division I South elimination game.
But peering through a longer lens, the senior center fielder believes he can tell you what will become of the Modesto Metro Conference champions over the next five years or so.
The outlook is sunny, too, thanks in large part to the foundation poured by McClenaghan and his classmates, a highly touted bunch earmarked for the next level.
McClenaghan is a three-year varsity starter and a stakeholder in two league titles. His legacy evolves with every new game.
“We’ve done some great things the last few years,” said McClenaghan, the MMC’s top offensive player this season. He’s hitting .486 with a team-high 31 RBIs.
“It’s fun to keep creating a reputation for Gregori High baseball. We’re creating a program for future teams that come in, teams we may not even see play. St. Mary’s has that reputation. Tracy now has that reputation. We’re trying to create the reputation for our schools, a reputation that we have the ability to win section banners.”
No. 2 Gregori (28-2) was pushed to the brink of elimination with a 2-1 loss to top-seeded Tracy on Tuesday evening at the University of the Pacific’s Klein Family Field.
The Jaguars lost the semifinal in heartbreaking fashion: With runners on second and third in the bottom of the eighth inning, Gregori reliever A.J. MacCaughtry was flagged for a balk.
Standing in center, about 280 feet from the mound, McClenaghan was stunned by the abrupt finish. One of the best games he ever played in – “top-three,” he says – ended without a pitch.
“Very rough,” he said. “Coach (Jim) Davis said he was proud of us; proud to be our coach. He said people respect us now, and that it was a great game. It was a great battle. Now we have to come back and try to beat St. Mary’s again.”
The calendar has challenged Gregori in other ways, too. In between playoff games in Stockton, the seniors have worried about graduation, which took place Wednesday evening, and the events associated with that final walk.
The Bee caught up with McClenaghan before he flipped his tassel to delve deeper into Tuesday’s wacky finish, his maturity as a player, and his college plans.
James Burns: Was it a balk?
Jimmy McClenaghan: He stepped off before he came set. I knew what was going on. I was just confused why it was happening.
JB: You’ve played in a lot of big games with a lot of good teams. Where does Tuesday’s clash with Tracy rank?
JM: That was a top-three game, for sure. It was very tight the whole way and the pitchers threw well. Matt Dallas was a bulldog. That was a game to remember. I’ve had people come up to me and say it’s one of the best high school games they’ve ever seen.
JB: In what ways have you matured as a player in Year 3 of your varsity baseball career?
JM: I’ve learned to become more coachable, especially with coach (Justin) Hardin and hitting. I’ve also grown as a leader, as all the seniors have. From my sophomore year to my senior year, there’s been this change mentally. You have to become that guy. As a senior, you have to be a leader and that’s been the biggest change for me.
JB: Teammate and reigning All-District player of the Year Matt Dallas is having another MVP-caliber season and newcomer Julian Favela has been the best pitcher in the area, but there’s an argument to be made for Jimmy McClenaghan.
JM: It clicked this year more than any other year. It helps when you have guys getting on in front of you, giving you those opportunities to get RBIs. They made it easier for me.
JB: You committed to Nebraska as an underclassmen, but didn’t sign with the Cornhuskers. What happened? And where will you play next?
JM: I’m an outfielder and they needed some more infielders. I was taking up some of their money with scholarships and they decided to go in a different direction … and so did I. Now, I’m going to go to Delta and try to go to a four-year. That’s how things have gone.
JB: Was it disappointing – the business side of baseball?
JM: No, I understood it. You have to look at the positive side of things. I still have a chance to go to a four-year from Delta. I wasn’t frustrated. It was understandable where they were coming from and it was the best decision for both of us.