Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Thursday, May 20, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Rancho High School
During a three-year period from 1974-76 Rancho High won two state championships and had nine players selected in the Major League Baseball draft. Four made it all the way to The Bigs (players in bold):
- Marty Barrett
- Tommy Barrett
- Mike Maddux
- Mike Morgan
- Mark Bloomfield
- Mike Guerra
- John Huntington
- Perry Swanson
- Jeff Wolfe
Rancho's State Championships
- 1959: Jack Dailey
- 1960: John Tartan
- 1961: John Tartan
- 1965: Bob Peck
- 1969: Bob Reed
- 1973: Bob Reed
- 1974: Tex Anthony
- 1976: Tex Anthony
- Tex Anthony talks about his two state title teams.
- Manny Guerra talks about the nine drafted Rancho players.
- Marty Barrett talks about seeing his former teammates.
- Mike Villa talks about Rancho High's new baseball facility.
- Marty Barrett talks about the 1986 World Series.
- Ralph Durgin talks about signing with the Giants.
Three years ago, Rancho High School baseball coach Tom Pletsch was picking up pieces of broken beer bottles to clear a place for his team to practice.
His players still tell stories of those afternoons at North Las Vegas’ Hartke Park, when chasing baseballs involved navigating around homeless people sleeping in the outfield.
They can laugh about those days now.
Rancho’s players will take the field this afternoon at Aces Ballpark — a state-of-the-art, 9,100-seat Triple-A facility in downtown Reno — to face Northern Nevada’s Galena High in the large-school state semifinals. It’s the first time Rancho has been in the state event since 1977.
It’s also a long way from 2006, Pletsch’s first season leading the Rancho Rams, when the team won only six of 25 games. It was also the first of the two seasons the team had to practice at Hartke while the on-campus baseball complex was being renovated as part of a long overdue makeover of the entire school.
Now Rancho is three wins away from a state title. Most people say Rancho’s chances are slim given that Bishop Gorman, a private school team ranked fourth in the nation by Baseball America, is vying to be Nevada’s champion for the fifth consecutive year.
Some are even saying the Rams are out of their league rubbing shoulders with the state’s high school baseball royalty.
“People think we are from the ghetto and this is some lowlife school,” junior infielder Kevin Kline said. “But the reality is that this is a great school with great teachers and students. All someone would have to do is spend one day here to know the truth.”
When Rancho beat a team from a more affluent neighborhood during a summer American Legion game a few years back, one of the players from the opposing team angrily told the Rams: “Go back to the ghetto.”
The ghetto references are something players have learned to deal with. Yes, the school on the border of downtown Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, is in what’s considered a rough neighborhood, but a third of Rancho’s nearly 3,000 students are part of a medical and aviation magnet program and come from throughout the Clark County School District. They go through a rigorous application process based on academics, testing and citizenship. Then, if they qualify, they get into the lottery from which the program’s students are randomly selected.
Fourteen of the baseball team’s 15 players are part of the magnet school, combining for a 3.48 grade-point average. Four players have GPAs of at least 3.9.
Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the team’s bus was to leave for Reno, two players arrived 30 minutes late for the final practice before the state tournament.
“Sorry, I had to meet with one of my teachers,” one of the players explained.
“We always get a bad rap because a lot of people have the perception that Rancho is the low-income school,” Pletsch said. “But we have some really fantastic kids who go to school here. Nothing happens at Rancho that doesn’t happen at other schools. Like other schools, we probably have 5 percent bad apples, too. But don’t judge all of our kids on that 5 percent.”
When Pletsch, a 1979 graduate of Rancho, took charge of the team four years ago, his first priority was restoring the program’s storied tradition. One of the area’s oldest schools, Rancho’s baseball team won eight state championships. The first title was in 1959.
Notable big leaguers Marty Barrett, Mike Maddux and Mike Morgan all played at Rancho, helping to lead the Rams to three state titles from 1973-76. One of the first things Pletsch did when he took over was coordinate an annual golf tournament and alumni game to bring the legends back to the program. It was one of several moves that appears to have worked.
“What Tom has done at Rancho has just been a miracle,” said Tex Anthony, who coached Rancho to state titles in 1974 and 1976. “I just can’t believe that he has been able to accomplish so much in such a short time. Everyone I still talk to from back in the day says they can’t believe Rancho is coming back up and how neat it is.”
Linking past to present helped kick-start the transition. The players’ performance on the field has done the rest.
Rancho went 6-19 in Pletsch’s first season of 2006, but posted a winning record of 17-16 by 2008 during the program’s first year back at its on-campus facility.
Pletsch started four freshmen that spring — his son, shortstop Brandon Pletsch, pitcher Eric Holdren, Kline and pitcher Zak Qualls — in setting the table for the future.
This year, they enter the state tournament with a 30-3 record, with two of the defeats coming by a combined five runs.
In the regional playoffs, Qualls pitched a no-hitter to upset Green Valley, 2-1. It was the first time Green Valley, one of the area’s powerhouses, has been no-hit in the school’s 19-year history.
Rancho topped Green Valley 11-5 on Saturday in the double-elimination event’s title game, becoming the first school from the Northeast League to win the Sunrise regional crown since Southern Nevada high school athletics was divided into regions 11 years ago. Most years, schools from the Henderson area dominate the low-income schools of the Northeast.
“They are a very solid baseball team,” Green Valley coach Nick Garritano said. “One through nine, they hit the ball around against us pretty good. As long as they don’t get caught up in the magnitude of the state tournament, they should make a run at it.”
Beating Gorman might be easier said than done, but Pletsch points to close contests the teams have had against each other during the fall and summer seasons. They were tied at 4-all in the eighth inning of the Legion state tournament last summer before Gorman pulled away.
“Our motto has been to respect everyone, but fear nobody,” Pletsch said.
Indeed, his players seem to deal with their underdog role in the same way that they shrug off the stereotyping of their school.
But no matter the outcome, they’ve been part of one of the best turnarounds in recent local prep sports history, and a season that the likes of Maddux, Morgan and Barrett would be proud of.