Monday, March 2, 2009 | midnight
When Jeff Malm began his freshman season with the Bishop Gorman baseball team, he told coach Chris Sheff he wanted to win four state championships.
The senior pitcher could get his wish this spring. Gorman, winners of the last three state titles, opened practice Saturday with one goal — winning another crown.
"When I first got here and told coach that he kind of looked at me like I didn't know what I was getting myself into," Malm said. "Then we won freshman year and everything has been put into place since then. Now as seniors we have a chance to win four — it would be pretty special to do that."
The Gaels are also in the running for a national title.
Gorman, which finished 41-3 last year, is ranked No. 1 in preseason polls by Baseball America and BaseballNews.com. Gorman spent time at the top of several national rankings last year, then confirmed its status as a national power by besting 6,000 teams this summer to win the American Legion World Series.
"A couple years ago when we first got in the national rankings the kids thought when they lost a game it was kind of the end of the world," Sheff said. "But pressure is self-inflicted, and I think we're past that as a program. After winning a national title last summer, these are just expecting to play good baseball."
Gorman returns six starters from last year's team, including the first baseman Malm who Gorman with a .564 average, seven home runs and a team-leading 73 RBIs last spring.
This season, he will also take over the ace pitching duties for Donn Roach, who is now a freshman at Arizona. A year ago, Malm had a 2.90 earned run average with 74 strikeouts in 50.2 innings as the No. 2 starter.
The USC commit was clocked at 92 miles per hour at the American Legion World Series in August.
Gorman's other top pitchers will include Stephen Manthei and Joey Rickard, both Arizona commits. Manthei collected a 2.23 ERA in 37.2 innings last season while Rickard had a 2.08 ERA in 37 innings.
Rickard, who plays center field when not pitching, will also play a huge role offensively as he hit .489 with 54 RBIs and a team-leading 87 runs in 2008.
"Winning another title would mean a lot," Rickard said. "If we lost this year, we'd probably forget about the first three. We'd just remember that we lost our senior year. You have to go out on top."
When he isn't pitching, Malm will play first base with second base being manned by Johnny Field, who started every game last year.
R.J. Santigate and Tyler Wagner will both see time at shortstop with freshman Joey Gallo at third base. Rickard will lead the outfield along with a combination of aforementioned players depending on the pitcher.
Sheff said Gorman is well aware its opponents will give the Gaels their best effort every night, routinely throwing ace pitchers. But that is a position his team has grown accustomed to.
"It's been that way for a couple years now," Sheff said. "But we're not concerned about who we're playing. We just want to play the game we're supposed to — that's hard and not expecting people to roll over for us."
Christopher Drexel can be reached at 990-8929 or [email protected].