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Gorman’s fifth straight baseball crown puts school’s athletic program in elite company

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Elizabeth Margerum

Bishop Gorman’s Cory Welch is congratulated after hitting a home run Thursday against Reno High School during the State 4A baseball playoffs at Bishop Manogue High School in Reno.

Updated Saturday, May 22, 2010 | 11:33 p.m.

This state championship banner will have a little extra significance.

In capturing its fifth consecutive large-school state baseball title Saturday night, Bishop Gorman High became the first Nevada school since Rancho in 1960-61 to win the state championship in all three major sports — football, basketball and baseball — in the same school year.

Additionally, all three teams finished ranked nationally in at least one poll. The baseball team entered the state tournament ranked No. 4 by Baseball America.

Gorman beat Rancho 13-0 in five innings at Aces Ballpark to cap an emotional, three-day run through the tournament and continue its diamond dominance. The convincing championship-game victory, however, nearly didn’t happen.

Gorman surrendered 22 runs in the first five innings Friday against Northern Nevada’s Galena High and was two outs away from losing by the mercy rule — the game is stopped after five innings when one team is ahead by 10 or more runs.

But the Gaels scored 14 unanswered runs for a 24-22 victory to remain undefeated in the double-elimination event and advance to the title game needing to win one out of two games against the winner of the loser’s bracket.

“To be that far down and to win a game is truly remarkable,” Gorman coach Chris Sheff said. “I got them together after the second inning (when trailing by seven) and literally told them we weren’t going to lose. And they believed we weren’t going to lose the game.”

Gorman lost to Rancho 4-2 in the first championship-round game Saturday, being limited to four hits by Rancho junior Brandon Pletsch on a cold Reno evening.

The Gaels (36-4) erased any doubt of who was the state’s top team early in the second game against Rancho.

Gorman senior Johnny Field, a regular on the past championship teams who will play next year at the University of Arizona, led the Gaels with three hits and four RBIs. His bases-clearing triple in the second inning highlighted a six-run outburst to give the Gaels plenty of breathing room.

Of Gorman’s initial six runs, Field scored twice and had four RBIs.

“We kind of gave Gorman a wake-up call when we beat them in that first game,” Rancho coach Tom Pletsch said. “But that Johnny Field is one heck of a player. He is the nuts and bolts of that team.”

Cory Welch pitched a four-hit shutout for the victory, shutting down a pesky Rancho team making its first appearance in the state tournament since 1977. The Sunrise Region champion Rams (33-5) will only lose one senior to graduation, and Pletsch expects them to be back in the state spotlight next year.

“Tom has to be commended for what he has done over there. He has turned that program around,” Sheff said. “We had our hands full with them.”

Gorman, which hadn’t won a state baseball title since its streak started in 2007, has also won the last three American Legion state titles. The Legion affiliate has played in the Legion World Series the last two years, winning the national crown in 2008.

“I remember talking to the kids in our program during that first year and telling them how we were going to win titles,” Sheff said. “We definitely felt like we were capable of doing that. But looking back after winning five, you realize it is a special run. People don’t understand how difficult it is to win championships.”

The fifth title was arguably the unlikeliest.

Sheff spent part of the year experimenting with different lineups in an attempt to rebuild his team after losing six core players from the initial title teams to graduation. Those players each signed with major Division I schools or were drafted.

The replacements worked out just fine. For instance, freshman Kenny Meimerstorf hit a pair of three-run home runs in the comeback against Galena.

“I don’t think people expected us to be as good as we are this year because we lost such a great class of kids,” Sheff said. “I guess the pressure was on us to be the three-championship school.”

All three teams will be in a good position to defend their titles.

The basketball team returns rising junior guard Shabazz Muhammad, who is widely considered one of top recruiting prospects for the class of 2012 and already has scholarship offers from the likes of Kansas, UCLA and Wake Forest.

But the Gaels, which finished ranked No. 10 by USA Today, must replace four-year point guard Johnathan Loyd (Oregon) and six other seniors who helped them win a second straight title last winter.

Click to enlarge photo

Virgin Valley players celebrate at the mound at Aces Ballpark after beating Truckee on Saturday to become the Nevada 3A state baseball champions.

“To be honest, I really don’t know about next year,” said Grant Rice, Gorman’s basketball coach and assistant athletic director. “I really like the young guys we have. They are going to get a chance to shine.”

In football, Gorman has only lost two games in the last three years and finished 15-0 last fall to win the title. Led by a core group of eight seniors who received Division I scholarships, the Gaels were never challenged in outscoring opponents 799-137.

They return the likes of defensive tackle Jalen Grimble, who committed to USC early this month, running back Shaquille Powell and rising sophomore quarterback Anu Solomon.

Gorman also won state titles in girls basketball, girls tennis and girls swimming. Its boys and girls basketball teams combined to finish 57-7, and neither lost to an in-state opponent.

“We have some good kids at the school who are doing things the right way,” Rice said.

Gorman isn’t the state’s only baseball program dominating the opposition. Virgin Valley High of Mesquite captured its third straight 3A classification title Saturday with an 8-1 victory against Truckee.

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