High School | General | 2/14/2020

Palo verde mines Vegas gold

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Paulshawn Pasqualotto (Perfect Game)

Regional HS Preview: Southwest | High School Preview Index

It can be an informative and equally enjoyable exercise to pull up the 2020 roster for the Las Vegas Palo Verde High School Panthers while also scanning Perfect Game’s updated 2020, 2021 and 2022 prospect rankings for the state of Nevada.

Take a peak and then consider for a moment the names occupying the top spot in all three rankings while also taking note of the school they attend.

Leading the way among this year’s senior class (2020) is top two-way talent Paulshawn Pasqualotto, a U. of California signee ranked No. 115 nationally. The No. 1 name in the junior class is elite outfield prospect Thomas Dilandri, a TCU commit who is slotted at No. 27 nationally. The No. 1-ranked sophomore in the state? That would be outfielder Mason Neville, an Arizona commit ranked No. 34 nationwide.

That’s three Nevada No. 1's, each of whom will assume important roles for Palo Verde this spring when the Panthers attempt to win their second Nevada Class 4A (big-school) state championship in three years under the direction of head coach Joe Hallead.

And, according to the Perfect Game High School Preseason Top 50 National rankings, they are the favorites to do so. Palo Verde will open its season March 5 against Basic HS in Henderson as the No. 14-ranked team in the country and No. 1 in the PG HS Southwest Region (Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah).

That, of course, also makes the Panthers the highest ranked team in their own state, ahead of Las Vegas-area rivals Bishop Gorman (No. 4), Basic (No. 14) and Desert Oasis (No. 17), which also cracked the PG Southwest Region top 25 (Reno HS is No. 11). And, to Hallead’s way of thinking, there is no reason for Palo Verde to take a back seat to anyone after what it’s accomplished over the last four seasons.

“I do believe in my program and I know that we’ve built it the right way,” Hallead told PG during a recent telephone conversation. “Even though we’ve won a state championship it’s still in the building phase and there’s still phase four, five and six to go through before it’s a solid, every year, nationally ranked team.

“I let you guys make the decisions on how good teams are but I do believe in my squad,” he said. “They act the right way between the lines and they act the right way in the classroom, and I’m a teacher so that’s really important to me.”

Hallead is beginning his fifth year as the head coach at Palo Verde after previously heading the program at Camas High School in Camas, Wash, for 15 years.

He moved to Vegas after his son had graduated from high school in 2014 and landed an assistant coaching position at Sierra Vista HS his first year in town. (Joe’s son, Tyler Hallead, was a 24th-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2016 out of the College of Southern Nevada is Henderson.)

The Palo Verde program had experienced some down years and had gone through several coaches before Hallead arrived and he was determined to turn things around.

“I told them that I know I’m the new guy in town but I promise you I’ll put together a good program, and I told them that within three years we’ll be fighting for a state championship,” Hallead said. It was a statement that proved prophetic.

The Panthers finished 21-15 after a loss in the regional semifinals in Hallead’s first season in 2016 and 22-10-1 after a loss in the regional quarterfinals in 2017. In 2018, Hallead’s third season at the helm, Palo Verde finished went 31-9 after claiming the Nevada Class 4A state championship. The 2019 season ended with a loss in the regional championship game that left them with a 25-10 mark.

“That second year (2017) was the big year,” Hallead said. “The kids bought in 100 percent and really listened to the way we wanted to do it, the ‘Palo Way’ we call it … and then the third year is when it just blew up. We had some really good baseball players and everything fit together; it was just magical.”

Whether or not the 2020 season turns out being magical in its own right remains to be seen, but there are some important pieces in place to at least make a solid run. It starts with a solid group of seniors who have definitely paid their dues but it goes even deeper than that.

Pasqualotto, the Cal signee, leads the way. The right-hander/outfielder/infielder was 2-2 with a 3.79 ERA in 20 1/3 innings pitched and hit .382 (34-for-89) with 14 extra-base hits, including four home runs, for the Panthers in 2019.

He also earned a top 10.0 grade at the PG National Showcase in Phoenix in June and was an all-tournament selection at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship, the PG 17u World Series and the PG WWBA World Championship last summer and fall playing with the San Diego Show.

Senior Jaden Agassi will be back with the team this spring after playing eight games with the varsity last year. The home-schooled Agassi, a Southern California signee ranked No. 165 in the class of 2020 (No. 2 Nevada), underwent Tommy John surgery last May and while he is also considered a promising two-way prospect, he will be available only to hit this spring.

There are several more pretty sharp arrows in Palo Verde’s quiver. Senior catcher/outfielder Josiah Cromwick, an Oregon signee ranked Nos. 446/6, will be playing his third season on the varsity and is coming off a junior season when he hit .465 (47-for-101) with team-highs of 12 home runs and 43 RBI.

By being on the varsity as a sophomore in 2018, Cromwick knows what it’s like to be a part of a state championship-winning dogpile. The rest of the seniors were playing on the JV team as 10th-graders but they are no less talented.

Team captain Paul Myro IV (Oregon State, t-500/9), a top utility player/right-hander, and middle-infielder/right-hander Noah Carabajal (Long Beach State, t-500/7) are key cogs returning for their senior seasons. The Panthers’ pitching staff is bolstered by the return of senior right-handers Jasper Nelson (t-500/14) and Zach Rowley (High Follow).

“It really does come down to all those seniors,” Hallead said. “They’ve been in the program and they know what it’s like and they know what it takes to win here. They have that winning attitude … where they know they’re going to go into a season and win games.

“The last couple of years the senior classes have been really good that way,” he continued. “Now it’s almost a given, like the torch has been passed to this senior group. And with all the talent we have it makes it even better.”

They won’t have to do it alone. Hallead calls his juniors and a few select sophomores the most talented group of underclassmen he’s ever coached during a 21-year career.

Dilandri, who had been home-schooled, is new to the program this season. He got the attention of PG scouts by earning Top Prospect List recognition at both the PG Junior National Showcase in Hoover, Ala., and at the PG Underclass All-American Games in San Diego last summer. You can count his head coach as among those who appreciate his considerable skills.

“He’s unbelievable; he might be the best player I’ve ever coached,” Hallead said. “He deserves a high ranking for being a person, too, because he’s a great baseball player but he’s an even better guy. He’s very respectful, very hustle-oriented, yes coach-no coach; just the perfect kid.”

Neville, already a veteran of 23 PG events including the 2019 Junior National Showcase, played in 18 varsity games for the Panthers as a freshman in 2019. Although 13 plate appearances and nine at-bats is a small sample size, he was able to contribute a home run, a double and a single, driving in five runs and scoring four.

Every player on the Palo Verde roster will be challenged this season. The high school baseball scene in the Las Vegas area is as vibrant and compelling as anywhere in the country, and it’s been that way for quite some time. No current fan of Major League Baseball needs to be reminded that former Perfect Game All-Americans and MLB All-Stars Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper and Joey Gallo are Vegas products.

Bishop Gorman HS has been the standard-bearer in Nevada for a lot of years now – it is No. 24 in PG’s preseason national rankings – but the programs at Vegas-area schools such as Faith Lutheran, Spring Valley, Desert Oasis, Arbor View, Green Valley, Basic and Sierra Vista are also highly regarded.

Hallead isn’t afraid to take the Panthers out of state, either. They’ve played in early season tournaments in Arizona, California and Utah since he’s come on board and they’ll be at the Boras Classic of Arizona in the Phoenix area in mid-March this season.

“It’s one of those things where we try to get as much good competition as we can,” he said. “The way we think of it is, we play a faceless opponent and we play ‘Palo Baseball.’ If we’re good enough we’ll we win; if the other team is better we’ll tip our hat.”

Maybe that describes this Palo Verde program as well as any statement could. Hallead insisted that the final numbers on the scoreboard won’t matter to him at all until postseason play begins at the end of the school year.

The scoreboard, he said, tells an incomplete story because the final score isn’t always indicative of the way a team played. After the completion of a game, win or lose, he’ll talk to his players, evaluate their overall performance and then reach the right conclusions on what needs to be done moving forward. Winning a state championship and doing it the right way is the only thing that matters.

“All I say is four words: ‘Stay humble, stay hungry,’” Hallead told PG. “Everybody’s going to be looking at you … but all you’ve got to do is stay humble and stay hungry and understand that our prize is at the end of May up in Reno, dog-piling at home plate.”

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