Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
Bishop Gorman High baseball coach Nick Day doesn’t need to be briefed on the record his team is trying to equal in this week’s state tournament.
After all, it’s a record he proudly helped set as a player in the mid-1990s.
Day was one of the best players in Las Vegas baseball history during a storied four-year career at Green Valley High, helping the Henderson-area team earn national respect while winning six consecutive state championships from 1993 to ’98.
Day, a 1996 graduate, batted .495 with nine home runs and 30 stolen bases as a senior in being named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year to close his prep career with four championships.
More than 15 years later, it is Day’s team at Gorman that is earning national accolades. The Gaels (19-2) are the five-time defending state champions and are heavily favored to equal Green Valley’s mark this week.
Well, that is if Green Valley doesn’t play spoiler.
The teams play in the state semifinals at 6 p.m. Thursday at the College of Southern Nevada’s Henderson campus in the double-elimination tournament. Sunrise Region champion Rancho and Northern Nevada’s Spanish Springs High play at 3 p.m. in the first game.
Playing his alma mater in such a significant game — with the once-seemingly impossible-to-break streak so close — is not lost on Day. He’s proud of his accomplishments at Green Valley and uses his experiences to help his players in preparation for their attempt at history.
But come Thursday, at least for two hours, his loyalty will be solely with Gorman.
“We just figure we might as well be part of breaking it, you know,” said Day, who was promoted from assistant to head coach last summer after Chris Sheff left for a college job. “That way we will still be part of it.”
Day isn’t the lone connection to the Green Valley program on the Gorman staff. Three of his assistants — Gerry Alesia, Taylor Myers and Ben Rosenthal — also played for the Gators when they went on their legendary run.
The current players on the Green Valley roster are well-versed on the program’s traditions and past successes. They understand that Thursday will be no ordinary game — a victory would be a win for those teams of yesteryear, those teams Day and his assistants thrived on.
“We haven’t had to say anything about previous championship teams or records,” Green Valley coach Matt Stoner said. “They know the history of Green Valley.”
Looking into the Green Valley dugout before Thursday’s game and seeing the Gators’ green and blue uniforms — uniforms that haven’t changed since the school opened in 1991 — will surely be emotional for the Gorman coaches. Just don’t expect them to be overwhelmed.
“I’m glad Green Valley is there. If we don’t win, I want Green Valley to win,” Day said. “I just don’t want them to beat us. Obviously, I want to take care of business and send them to the losers bracket.
“I do still have that Green Valley pride and want them to do well,” he said.
Rodger Fairless, the patriarch of the Green Valley program who is widely considered the most successful high school coach in Nevada history with 12 state titles at three programs, employed a hard-nosed coaching philosophy to get the most of his players.
The Gorman coaches use some of the same training methods as Fairless, but realize it’s impossible to equal his intensity. They talk with great respect about their former coach and cherish being able to be part of a Gorman team that could equal his streak.
“I’m just excited about the opportunity to be part of trying to win another state championship,” Alesia said. “(Day) has done a good job of getting the kids ready because he has been there, done that.”
T.J. White, one of Gorman’s top players who is batting .500 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs this spring, has been part of several memorable wins at Gorman. Being in the record books next to his coach would be the ultimate way to close his career.
“They dominated for a decade, basically,” White said. “It’s cool to be in the same boat as they were.”
After his days at Green Valley, Day played twice in the College World Series with Stanford. He also had a brief professional career, which was cut short by injuries.
He never imagined he would be coaching, especially at Gorman. The rivalry between Gorman and Green Valley has always been intense, especially during Day’s high school career, when both teams were loaded with talented players.
Several of those had the last name ‘Day.’ Nick Day’s older brother, Chris, was on the first title team in 1993, and his two cousins — Eric and Kevin Day — each had a significant role in helping Green Valley build a dynasty.
At Gorman, Day doesn’t consider himself going for a sixth crown. Rather, as a first-year head coach, he has the jitters of calling the shots in the state tournament for the initial time.
“Yeah, there is a lot of pressure,” he said. “I don’t know if I have to prove myself or what it is. If we don’t win this year, you really point the finger at me. I am the only factor that has changed.
“I’m happy for the kids to be able to tie the record,” he added. “But, for me, it feels like I’m going for my first.”
Green Valley isn’t the same force it once was, but still produces solid teams each year. Fairless left after the 1998 season, but his predecessors have kept the tradition intact. There are constant reminders of the past successes, with Fairless’ retired jersey hanging in the outfield next to the championship banners.
Nick Garritano coached Green Valley to a pair of state titles before leaving this fall for the CSN job three months before the season.
Green Valley was supposed to struggle without Garritano. But the Gators rallied last week to make the state tournament by upsetting nationally ranked Sierra Vista in the tournament’s play-in game. Sierra Vista was considered Gorman’s biggest threat, giving Day plenty of reasons to be excited for his former team.
And, giving Stoner plenty of reason to think his team will be the last one standing.
“I told them from Day One that ‘Nobody will believe in you guys,’ ” Stoner said. “I really don’t think people know the things we’ve done this year or that we are even in the tournament. I truly believe nobody is giving us a chance this year with everything that happened in the fall.”