Gulliver Travels to No. 1 Ranking

High School : : General
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Friday, February 25, 2011

This is the sixth of a 7-part series unveiling the 2011 Perfect Game National High School Top 50 Rankings.

February 18: # 6-10

February 21: #5

February 22: #4

February 23: #3

February 24: #2

February 25: #1, entire top 50 list

No. 1 Gulliver Prep School (Miami, FL)

Florida High School Athletic Association Class 3A (District 16)

2010 Results: 25-6 (FHSAA 3A District Champions; 3A Regional Champions; 3A State Runner-Up)

Key Losses: C Andrew Valencia (South Florida); RHP Nick Sinatra

Top Players: LHP Chris Diaz (U of Miami); 3B Eric Neitzel (Miami); C/INF Chris Chinea (Miami)

Notable Matchups: Feb. 9 beat Archbishop McCarthy, 14-4; March 5 vs. Pope (GA) @ Columbus, GA; March 19 vs. Tampa Jesuit @ U of Miami; April 14 vs. Pace

The Miami Gulliver Prep School Raiders rode the backs of an especially gifted group of sophomores to the FHSAA Class 3A state championship game in 2010, where they suffered a bitter one-run defeat to Jacksonville Bolles.

“We feel like we have a young and talented enough team to win a state championship,” Gulliver coach Javy Rodriguez told the Miami Herald after the game. “It just stinks that we’ll have to wait a whole year to get back to this point.”

Someone snapped a photo of the Raiders walking dejectedly off the field after that championship loss. It’s a photo the 2011 team has kept around with an added notation.

“They have that picture … after the state championship game and it says, ‘We don’t want to be this team again,’” Rodriguez told Perfect Game this week.

Those sophomores that led Gulliver to a 25-6 record and a spot in the title game are now juniors, and two more talented juniors have transferred in from other Miami high schools. Seven Raiders on the 2011 roster have already verbally committed to the University of Miami and Coach Jim Morris, following the in the same footsteps Gulliver and Miami alumnus Rodriguez took.

With all the talent Gulliver Prep will put on the field this spring, it has earned the No. 1 spot in Perfect Game’s 2011 National High School Preseason Rankings. Rodriguez, who is beginning his third season as Gulliver’s head coach, feels the ranking is appropriate.

“I think these are amazingly talented players that come to practice and don’t think anything of it – just practice and play hard,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve all seen the rankings, they all know where we are, and they go to practice every day and work hard because they know last year we lost in that state championship game and they don’t want that to happen again.”

After winning the District 16 championship, the Raiders won three regional tournament games over Hollywood Chaminade, Miami Monsignor Pace and Plantation American Heritage by a combined five runs. They beat Cocoa in the state semifinals, 2-0, and lost to Bolles, 3-2, in the championship game on a walk-off single.

“We set our mind to win state every year. We came up a little short but there’s no doubt it was a very successful season,” Rodriguez said. “They played well; most of them were sophomores and to get to that point was pretty good.

“This year we’re older, we’re stronger and we’ve got more pitching.”

Left-hander Chris Diaz (6-2, 2.30 ERA in 2010) is the Raiders’ top senior, with most of the returning talent residing in the junior class.

Diaz is among the “Miami 7”, a list that also includes catcher Chris Chinea, third baseman Eric Neitzel, shortstop Adrian Marin, left-hander Ivan Pelaez and centerfielder Ricky Eusebio, all juniors. Sophomore second baseman John Ruiz also recently committed to the Hurricanes.

Gulliver received a huge boost when Pelaez transferred in from nearby Miami Sunset High School. Pelaez was a standout on the USA Baseball National 16U team that won gold last October.

“We’re deeper on the mound, especially with the addition of Ivan Pelaez,” Rodriguez said. “He is an enormous addition to our staff.”

Junior outfielder/right-hander Walt Pichardo, who transferred in from Miami Ferguson, is another newcomer Rodriguez expects to contribute.

Perfect Game has identified these standouts from the class of 2012. Chinea is ranked the No. 8 top prospect in Florida and No. 25 in the nation; Neitzel comes in 20-95; Marin is listed 31-157; Pelaez 66-342; and Eusebio 79-403.

Miami Coach Morris told Perfect Game in a January interview that it’s his goal to “control Dade and Broward counties” in the recruiting battles and he’s certainly done that by snagging these players from Gulliver Prep.

“We’ve got a lot of advantages (starting with) the fact that we have really, really good players within 30 minutes (from campus),” Morris said.

Rodriguez said he doesn’t go out of his way to direct his players to his alma mater.

“I love Miami,” he said. “I went there and it was a good time while I was there, but I’m not going to stop a kid from having an out-of-town experience and going somewhere else.”

He noted that Pichardo, an excellent student, is being heavily recruited by Stanford from the Pac-10 Conference.

“I think Stanford might be a good fit for him,” Rodriguez said. “He’s a great student and he’s a great player … and Stanford is a great school with a great baseball program. I would never even try to talk him out of that; that’s his total decision.

“It’s easy for me because I know the coaching staff at Miami (but) it’s the kid’s choice; they can go where ever they want.”

Rodriguez graduated from Gulliver Prep in 1998 after a four-year first team all-state career that saw him put together a 74-game hitting streak from his freshman year into his senior season. He then moved on to the U of Miami where he enjoyed an all-America career and was selected in the 5th round of the 2002 MLB June Amateur Draft by the Anaheim Angels.

He spent five years in the minor leagues – climbing as high as Triple-A – but was forced to retire at the beginning of the 2006 season after suffering an eye injury. He returned to Gulliver as an assistant coach in 2008 and was named head coach one year later.

While that was happening, Rodriguez went back to the U of Miami and finished his final year of school to earn his degree.

In his first year as head coach, the Raiders lost in the regional finals to American Heritage, the same team they beat in the 2010 regional finals.

Now is the time for the PG top-ranked Raiders to show their mettle. A state championship – and perhaps even more – is squarely in their sights.

“That’s our goal. There is nothing more important to us than getting a state championship, and maybe if we’re up there, a national championship,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not out of the question, especially when you’re ranked high in all of the polls.”

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