The word on the streets of Phoenix and Tucson, Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and Provo and Salt Lake City is there doesn't seem to be a national-level high school baseball power this year in the four-state area – Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada – that makes up the Perfect Game Southwest Region.
Only two teams – No. 38 Greenway High School and No. 48 O’Connor High School, both in the Phoenix area – from the region found a spot in the 2014 Perfect Game Preseason National High School Top-50 Rankings. To hear some folks tell it, the pool of national championship-caliber high school programs is as dry as Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.
It begs a couple of questions: Has no one taken the time to travel over to glittering Las Vegas and look up an old friend only a year removed from a national championship season? Has no one bothered to knock on the door of perennial national title contender Bishop Gorman High School and at least say “Hello? Is anybody home?”
Bishop Gorman is a private Catholic college preparatory school with an enrollment of more than 1,160 students in grades 9 through 12 that can claim ownership of one of the most highly regarded and highly respected baseball programs in the country.
The Gaels won seven straight Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) Class 4A (big school) state championships from 2006 through 2012 before settling for a runner-up finish in 2013. And that one second-place state finish – one silver trophy instead of the customary gold – seems to have changed the perception of the program, however illogical that might be.
“We have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder in the fact that we see it around town with people maybe not respecting us like they did or thinking that we are down now because we lost one,” fourth-year BGHS head coach Nick Day told Perfect Game last week.
“(The players) have got a little bit of a chip on their shoulders to get that (respect) back, and it’s almost kind of a nice thing,” he said. “Instead of the pressure of having to maintain, now we’re not expected to repeat anymore. I still think we’re probably expected to win this year but it’s a little different kind of pressure.”
These are the expectations every athlete at Bishop Gorman High School faces with the advent of each new season. This is not unique to Day’s baseball program – several other sports programs on both the boys’ and girls’ side of BGHS’s athletic department are prominent nationally, and have been for most of the last 10 years.
THE PLANETS ALIGNED PERFECTLY FOR BISHOP GORMAN’S MOST HIGH-PROFILE boys' programs at the conclusion of the 2011-12 school year, at least in the eyes of several of the editors and writers at USA Today.
In mid-June 2012, the newspaper put the Gaels at No. 1 in its final baseball Super 25 national rankings and Bishop Gorman became the first school in 10 years to place teams in the final Super 25 in baseball, football and boys’ basketball during the same school calendar year. The 2011 Gaels football team finished No. 4 in the final USA Today Super 25 rankings and the 2011-12 boys’ basketball team landed in the No. 14 spot in that sports’ final Super 25 rankings.
“I just think we’re extremely fortunate to have coaches who are extremely committed to the program,” BGHS athletic director Sally Nieman told USA Today in June 2012. “The kids work hard all year and the results are obvious.”
The Bishop Gorman football program won the NIAA Division 1 state championship in the fall, its sixth state title since 2007 (the Gaels won six other state gridiron titles between 1970 and 1983). The boys’ basketball program is also nationally recognized and won six NIAA state championships between 2000 and 2013, including four in the last five years.
And baseball, football and boys’ basketball aren’t the only sports the Gaels rule in Nevada. The girls’ tennis program won 17 state championships between 1988 and 2012, including five straight from 2005-2009; the girls’ basketball team won four state titles between 2006 and 2010; the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams both won state championships in 2012 and combined for 11 titles since 1992.
As one of the school’s athletic programs achieves excellence, a friendly game of one-upmanship has developed among the other programs.
“I think a lot of the sports (teams) want to top the other sports, but at the same time we’re all proud of one another and we all pull for one another,” Day said. “There is a lot of competitiveness between sports, and things like that, and that makes it fun.”
Day acknowledges that the football program gets the lion’s share of attention around the community and its only bound to increase – on a national scale – next fall. It was announced in January that 2015 wide receiver Cordell Broadus, a consensus four-star recruit with scholarship offers from most of the NCAA Division I football heavyweights, had transferred to BGHS. Broadus is the son of legendary rapper Snoop Dog (now officially known as Snoop Lion) and the family plans to move to Las Vegas.
Day tries to impress upon his team that football is riding a wave of popularity at every level – high school, college, professional – all across the country, and, quite frankly, that’s just the way it is.
“It’s not our school doing anything different,” Day said. “Most sports programs put most of the emphasis on football, but any way (his baseball players) can find more motivation, I’ll take it. They’re well aware of the attention the football program gets, they’re well aware of the attention the basketball program gets. Sometimes we want the same credit that they get, and the kids deserve it.”
THE 2012 GAELS’ BASEBALL TEAM THAT FINISHED 40-3, claimed BGHS’s seventh straight NIAA state championship and won the USA Today Super 25 national championship (it finished second to Florida’s American Heritage High School in Perfect Game’s final 2012 national rankings) was a team for the ages.
It was led by 2011 PG All-American Joey Gallo, who hit .509 (58-for-114) with 21 home runs, eight doubles, two triples, 80 RBI, 66 runs scored and a 1.794 OPS his senior season. Gallo, who had signed with Louisiana State, was a first round pick of the Texas Rangers in the 2012 MLB June amateur draft and finished the 2013 season at Hickory in the Class A South Atlantic league.
Bishop Gorman’s 2013 season came to a close in the same place it usually does but with an unexpected result. The Gaels lost two games to Henderson Coronado High School in the Division 1 championship series and returned home with a rare runner-up trophy and a 34-10-1 overall record. Coronado was no slouch – the Cougars finished the season with a 37-4 mark.
“We talked after the game and it was tough, it was tough to swallow, but my message to them is that really we didn’t do anything wrong – we got beat by a really good team,” Day said. “It wasn’t like we just fell apart or anything, and like I told the guys, you just come up short sometimes. We’re not used to it but it happens and sometimes you’re going to get beat, and we did.
“… Baseball is a funny game and even if you’re the best team for seven years, to win it seven years in a row is pretty difficult to do.”
Outfielder Kenny Meimerstorf was among nine seniors from that team that graduated, and he will be missed. Meimerstorf hit .436 (58-for-133) with team-highs of 15 home runs, 17 doubles and 56 RBI. He was drafted in the 40th round of last June’s MLB amateur draft but opted to honor his commitment to the University of Arizona.
Another big loss was left-hander/second baseman Jerrall Latham who hit .366 with seven home runs and 40 RBI and went 6-1 with a 2.24 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 50 innings on the mound. Latham is now at Brigham Young University over in Provo, Utah.
THE TALK IN THE HALLWAYS OF BGHS ISN’T ABOUT WHO GRADUATED but rather who is returning, and it is a group that includes five prospects who have signed with or committed to NCAA Division I schools. Among them is senior outfielder/first baseman Cole Krzmarzick and senior catcher Michael Blasko, two of the Gaels’ leading hitters last season who have both committed to the University of Nevada in Reno.
Krzmarzick, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound alumnus of the 2013 PG National Showcase ranked 226th nationally in the class of 2014 (No. 2 in Nevada), hit .451 (64-for-142) with four home runs, 10 doubles and 38 RBI last season; Blasko, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder ranked Nevada’s No. 9 top prospect, hit .451 (69-for-153) with five homers, 13 doubles and 45 RBI.
“It just felt like the right place for both of us,” Blasko told David Schoen from the Las Vegas Review-Journal on signing day in November 2013 when asked about he and Krzmarzick’s decision to attend UNR. “It definitely feels like the whole world is off my shoulders. This felt like a long time coming. My freshman year colleges starting looking and now it’s all over, so it’s a good feeling.”
The Review-Journal reported that Blasko picked UNR over offers from Air Force, Arizona, Brigham Young, Southern California, Texas Tech and Nevada-Las Vegas. Krzmarzick was recruited by BYU, San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara and Utah, also according to the Review-Journal.
Senior first baseman/right-hander Nick Gates (.370, 7 HR, 37 RBI) and junior outfielder Matt Hudgins (.485, 2 HR, 26 RBI) are also among the Gaels’ top returning hitters.
But the best of them all just might be elite junior shortstop Cadyn Grenier, an Oregon State commit ranked No. 17 nationally (No. 2 Nevada) in the class of 2015. Grenier is a 5-foot-11, 180-pound top-end guy who hit .579 (62-for-107) with four home runs, 11 doubles, seven triples, 35 RBI and team-high 47 runs in just 34 games last season.
The top returning pitchers are a pair of right-handers: sophomore Jack Little and junior Alex Perron. Little, a Stanford commit ranked 23rd nationally in the class of 2016, was 6-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 52 1/3 innings last season, while Perron finished 5-0 with a 3.82 ERA in 33 innings. Gates threw 35 2/3 innings in 10 appearances, senior Matt Judd 17 1/3 in six outings and Grenier 13 1/3 in nine appearances.
“There is a lot of expectation, there is a lot of demand and a lot of things like that, but there is also a lot of pride,” Day said of the challenges his players face. “Kids come into our program wanting to be on one of the best teams in the country and on one of the best programs in the country. They come here to win state championships and that’s what we expect to do, and that’s the way I expect them to play. I expect them to play with pride; there’s a lot of pride in the way we play.”
DAY WAS CONSIDERED ONE OF THE COUNTRY’S TOP PROSPECTS after being named the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year following his senior season at Henderson Green Valley HS in 1996. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the 15th round of the 1996 MLB amateur draft, but elected to honor his college commitment to Stanford, where he twice played in the College World Series.
He finished up his collegiate career at Brigham Young University, was drafted again, this time by the San Diego Padres, and played two years in the minor leagues before retiring in 2001. The time he spent at Stanford taught the value of a quality education and it’s something he tries to impress that upon his players at Bishop Gorman.
“I don’t want to hear any of the excuses about schoolwork and the fact that they’re trying to juggle playing a sport and academics at the same time,” Day said. “I did it at the highest level, and there probably isn’t another institution that balances sports and academics quite like Stanford does. It’s really important to me … and school comes first. If (his players) have a makeup test or if they have something else like that, they have to take care of it.”
Expectations are high at Bishop Gorman High School, both athletically and academically. And just because the Gaels’ got beat in one two-game state championship series in the last eight years doesn’t mean they’ve fallen off the map. “Hello? Is there anybody home?” There most certainly is.
“We work hard to keep it going,” Day said. “Last year was a good wakeup call for me as a coach … and I was able to finally step back and say, ‘What do I need to do to get better?’ We’ve kind of went back to the drawing board just to say, ‘Where are we lacking and what can we do better?’ We’re working hard to get back on top and hopefully we can.”