No. 3 Bishop Gorman Gaels (Las Vegas, Nev.)
State Association/League: Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 4A/Sunset
Head Coach: Nick Day (2nd season as head coach).
2011 Results: 35-4 overall record; Sunset Conference Champions (15-1); NIAA Class 4A State Champions.
Key Losses: SS/RHP T.J. White (UNLV), C/1B Erik VanMeetren, RHP Billy Richardson
Top Returning Players: Sr. 3B/RHP Joey Gallo (LSU), Sr. OF Johnny Sewald (Arizona St.), Sr. RHP Evan Dunn (Pepperdine), Sr. RHP/1B Cody Roper (UNLV), Sr. OF A.J. VanMeetren, Jr. OF Kenny Meimerstorf
Notable Matchups: March 14-17 vs. Bishop Gorman Desert Classic @ Bishop Gorman HS; March 28-31 vs. USA Baseball NHSI @ Cary, N.C.; April 7 vs. Sierra Vista; April 28 @ Sierra Vista
With six straight Nevada Interscholastic Athletic Association (NIAA) Class 4A state championships tucked neatly away in the record books, the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman Gaels enter the 2012 season with little or nothing to prove.
Except, of course, that they have the drive and the determination – not to mention the talent and team chemistry – to make it seven titles in a row after the Nevada Class 4A State Championship game is played May 19.
Today, a full three months before that title game is contested, Bishop Gorman already finds itself in the national spotlight, debuting at No. 3 in the Perfect Game Preseason National High School Rankings.
“I expect us to be really good. I expect us to be right there at the end when (the) state (tournament) comes around,” Bishop Gorman second-year head coach Nick Day said earlier this week. “I hope the guys keep all the rankings and all the accolades in perspective and I hope they still know they have to go out and earn everything.
“The only thing that I’m afraid of with the talent that we have is they’re going to get complacent,” Day continued. “Once we start thinking we’re that good and quit working to be that good, then we can get beat – kind of like letting your guard down.”
Bishop Gorman, which this season features a senior-dominated lineup led by the return of 2011 Perfect Game All-American Classic Most Valuable Player Joey Gallo, was tabbed No. 5 in PG’s final 2011 National Rankings, capping a season in which it finished 35-4. The Gaels swamped rival Green Valley, 10-0 in five innings, in the 4A championship game played at the College of Southern Nevada.
Day, a Green Valley alum who played collegiately at Stanford and BYU and professionally for a short time in the San Diego Padres organization, was in his first year as head coach in 2011. He took over for Chris Sheff, who had led the Gaels to their five previous state crowns.
“Yes, to be quite honest, I felt a lot of pressure,” Day said. “This is actually my fourth year in the program – I was an assistant for two years so I have been around – but I still felt under a lot of pressure. I think there were a lot of questions after we lost a couple of early games to really good teams and I think some people starting questioning what we were doing.”
That was because last year’s Gaels team actually lost four of its first 18 games before finishing the season on a 21-game winning streak.
“Three of the four games we lost were to really good teams, but we weren’t really clicking; offensively we weren’t great, we weren’t swinging the bats very well and I think in that stretch (Johnny) Sewald and Gallo were both struggling, and they make our offense go,” Day said. “At the beginning of the year there was a lot of pressure, there were high rankings and I was doing some things differently than the old coach. But our chemistry really got better after that fourth loss.”
And Day is confident his team will maintain that chemistry when the Gaels kick off the 2012 season by hosting the Bishop Gorman Desert Classic March 14-17.
Fifteen seniors dot the Gaels’ 25-man varsity roster, and nothing is more important to team chemistry than senior leadership. Expect Gallo, an LSU signee who is projected to be a top-10 selection in June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, to provide the brunt of that leadership.
Gallo is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound third baseman and right-handed pitcher whose 2011 stat line was eye-popping, to use the king of understatements.
At the plate, he hit .471 (57-for-121) and posted a .558 on-base percentage and 1.198 slugging percentage. He crushed 25 home runs with nine other extra-base hits in 39 games, and drove in 78 runs while scoring 64 more. On the mound, he finished 3-1 with one save in eight appearances (three starts) and posted a 1.12 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings. His fastball reached 96 mph.
Batting in the cleanup spot for the West Team at the Perfect Game All-American Classic at the San Diego Padres’ PETCO Park on Aug. 14, Gallo led off the bottom of the second inning and blasted a 442-foot bomb into right-centerfield. It was the longest home run ever hit in the nine-year history of the All-American Classic and the 10th longest home run hit in PETCO’s eight-year major league history.
Gallo had received the 2011 Reebok Offensive Player of the Year Award the night before the Classic during the Perfect Game All-American Classic Awards Banquet, also in San Diego.
“He really is as good as advertised,” Day said. “When he was younger, we saw a lot of potential but we also saw some holes in his swing and what some pitchers could do to him. Then each year as he’s gotten older he’s just patched all those holes and now he’s at the point that he’s such a scary hitter that it doesn’t matter who’s on the mound or what they’re throwing.
“People don’t realize how athletic he is,” Day continued. “He’s 6-5 and he’s 220 and he runs real well and he has a great glove. He’s also been on the gun at 96-97 (mph with his fastball) this fall.”
As good as Gallo is, Bishop Gorman won’t win a seventh straight state championship unless he gets plenty of support, and Gallo’s supporting cast appears to be second-to-none.
Five other Gorman seniors have signed letters-of-intent with D-I schools, including outfielder Johnny Sewald with Arizona State; right-hander/first baseman Cody Roper and middle-infielder Justin Jones, both with UNLV; right-hander Evan Dunn with Pepperdine; and outfielder/left-hander Tommy Field with the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Additionally, middle-infielder Tyler Baker has signed with Western Nevada Community College and corner infielder Scott Campagna with D-II St. Martin University.
“We have 15 seniors and I think all 15 will play at some collegiate level next year, whether it’s D-II or junior college or whatever; I think all 15 will get a chance to keep playing next year,” Day said. “It’s quite impressive, and when there are 15 of them that means some of them aren’t playing as much as they would like or as much as they should – if they were at any other high school in town they’d be stars.”
Day used Field as an example. Field has signed with D-I Illinois-Chicago but wasn’t a starter as a junior and will have to earn a starting spot this season.
Roper, the UNLV recruit, is the Gaels’ top returning starting pitcher. He was 9-0 last season with a 1.40 ERA, and struck out 53 while walking just 10 in 50 innings.
“Cody Roper is an awfully good baseball player,” Day said. “With the attention Gallo gets this year, I think (a scout) is going to see him pitch really well and I think he could end up being a high draft pick as well.”
Sewald, the ASU recruit, was also spectacular during his junior season. He hit .459 (50-for-109) with eight home runs, 32 RBI and a team-high 67 runs, and stole an amazing 42 bases in 45 attempts.
Dunn was 5-0 with a 1.65 ERA with 48 Ks in 42 1/3 innings as a junior, and uncommitted senior outfielder A.J. VanMeetren hit .423 (44-for-104) and is expected to be a big contributor this year. Day is also expecting big things from junior outfielder Kenny Meimerstorf, a .414 hitter as a sophomore who is ranked as the No. 268 national prospect in the class of 2013.
This is a team that is already a proven winner, and based on the program’s exploits in seasons past will be expected to win again this year. The national ranking is what it is, even if the Gaels try to look the other way.
“We try not to pay attention to it, but of course we all see it. It’s fun to have high rankings but it also comes with a lot of pressure,” Day said. “From what I see, and to be honest, I think that we are (deserving). We are worthy of a top-five ranking but I think there are probably 10 or 15 schools that are worthy of a top-five ranking. Your guys’ job of ranking everybody is really difficult.”