Thursday, May 21, 2009 | 9:45 p.m.
Bishop Gorman senior Jeff Malm is known for his prowess at the plate, but it was his extraordinary command on the mound Thursday that lifted the Gaels past Green Valley 2-1 in eight innings in the opening round of the 4A state championship tournament.
Malm bewildered opposing hitters and wowed a soldout Morse Stadium crowd at the College of Southern Nevada as he racked up 15 strikeouts while allowing only two hits.
"It's just a tremendous effort," Bishop Gorman head coach Chris Sheff said of Malm's outing.
The USC-bound Malm struck out four of the first five batters he faced.
But Malm did make one costly error as Green Valley freshman Evan Van Hoosier blasted a solo home run to right field to give the Gators a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.
After the next batter, Kyle Larimer, roped a single, Malm regained his composure and struck out five of the next six batters.
"I wasn't really affected by (Van Hoosier's home run)," Malm said. "I was just trying to get right back at them."
The Gaels did just that in the top of the third thanks to a Tyler Wagner triple. The next hitter, Joey Rickard, lined a single over the head of Green Valley second baseman Jordan Van Hoosier to score Wagner and tie the game 1-1.
That score remained locked 1-1 for the next five innings as both squads squandered golden scoring opportunities.
Green Valley stranded two runners in the bottom of the fifth and Gorman failed to drive a run in despite loading the bases with one out in the top of the sixth.
"Honestly, we just didn't execute," Sheff said. "We didn't execute the game the way we should have. We kind of let them off the hook. We had multiple opportunities."
As the game headed into extra innings, Green Valley coach Nick Garritano replaced starting pitcher Daniel Levine with Nick Libonati.
Although Levine struggled at times, he held the Gaels to just one run on five this with two strikeouts and four walks.
His replacement, though, fell into trouble early.
Gorman's late rally started with a single by none other than Malm to lead off the eighth inning. Malm went just 1-for-4 on the day, but that single seemed to awaken the Gaels' bats.
"We talked about the guys that are supposed to step up, stepping up," Sheff said. "In our play-in game, (Malm) took control of the game and tonight, the same thing… He gets that hit in the eighth… just a gutsy effort and the type of effort we expect out of him."
With Malm on first, the next batter, Johnny Field, smacked a double before Libonati walked Evan Van Hoosier to load the bases with no outs.
Following a put-out at home by a Neil Lawhorn grounder, R.J. Santigate hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Field for the eventual game-winning run.
"Any win in the state tournament is huge, especially the first game, that's usually the toughest one to get," Malm said. "Playing Green Valley last year for state, we knew it would be a battle the whole way through."
Green Valley will now have to win four consecutive games if it hopes to bring a state championship back to Henderson. The Gators will face Cimarron-Memorial in the first game of the losers' bracket at noon at CSN. The Spartans fell to Douglas 9-5 Thursday.
The Gaels, however, seem poised to capture a fourth straight state title thanks to a rude awakening by Cimarron in the Sunset Regional title contest last week.
The Spartans slammed the Gaels 10-2, forcing Gorman to beat Las Vegas to even qualify for the state tournament.
"I think that loss brought us back down to earth," Malm said. "It's a completely different club than the last three years. We are coming in with a chip on our shoulder. I don't think we've done that the first three years. This win -- especially an emotional one on the first day -- that's huge for us."
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].