It was supposed to be the marquee matchup of the tournament with Sunrise Region champion Rancho battling Sunset champ Bishop Gorman for a spot in the Class 4A state baseball final.
But the tight contest that many anticipated never developed, as Gorman scored eight runs in the first two innings en route to a 13-2 win on Friday at the College of Southern Nevada.
“We knew if we could come out and get a couple early and get some momentum going, that would be a big key to the game,” Gorman coach Nick Day said. “And we were able to do that — get a couple in the first and then a bunch in the second.”
The five-time defending state champion Gaels (34-4) will play Green Valley (34-8) at 10 a.m. today. Should Gorman lose that game, a second would be played to determine the champion in the double-elimination tournament.
Rancho had star Zak Qualls on the mound to face Gorman on Friday, but the left-hander struggled from the beginning.
Qualls had trouble with his control, walking two in the first inning to help the Gaels take a 2-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Kenny Meimerstorf and an RBI single by A.J. Van Meetren.
Qualls continued to struggle in the second, and he lasted just 1 2/3 innings before leaving after allowing a three-run homer to Van Meetren that made the score 8-0.
Qualls gave up seven hits, walked three and struck out one.
“He’s a great pitcher and everything. He’s a hard pitcher to hit, and he’s got good stuff,” Gorman senior T.J. White said. “But coming out early, hitting him real well kind of just killed him.”
White had a two-run single in the second and finished 2-for-4 with a double and four RBIs.
“We’ve been rolling a little bit, swinging the bat real well in this tournament,” White said. “So we feel good.”
The Gaels added three runs in the third on a two-run double by White and an RBI single by Joey Gallo. And after Rancho scored two runs to cut its deficit to 11-2, Gallo hit a two-run homer in the fifth to push Gorman’s lead back to 11 and help shorten the game to five innings because of the 10-run rule.
“This was a huge game,” Day said. “If you don’t win this one, yesterday’s win wasn’t that big. Now we’re in the driver’s seat. These guys have got to play one extra game, and then they’ve got to beat us twice, so we’re definitely in a good spot.”
Gallo and Van Meetren each went 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs for the Gaels, who had 11 hits.
Leadoff man Johnny Sewald scored four runs. Gallo’s homer was his second in as many days and his 24th of the season. The Gaels have six homers in two state tourney games.
“We have some guys that seem to be locked in pretty good right now, which is great, because there’s no better time than now to be locked in at the plate,” Day said.
Billy Richardson went the distance to get the win, allowing two earned runs on eight hits. The senior right-hander struck out three and walked one.
“Billy’s done that all year,” Day said. “It was his turn today, and especially once we got the lead, all he needed to do was throw strikes and keep it to a minimum, and he did a good job today.”
Moving to 2-0 in the tournament left Gorman with plenty of pitching options for today’s finals. White, who had been one of the team’s top two pitchers all season, might be able to throw. Arm soreness has limited White since he came out of the Sunset Region title game against Sierra Vista.
“I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to pitch,” White said. “It’s getting better day by day, so we’ll come out tomorrow hoping for the best.”
White said the team isn’t feeling the pressure of trying to keep the school’s state title streak alive.
“I think more pressure was coming in today and knowing that we had to win this game,” White said. “It takes a little off today, but we can’t take anybody lightly.”
Green Valley 5, Rancho 4 — The Gators rallied for two runs in the top of the fifth to come from behind and top the Rams (32-6) to move into the title game.
With one out, Alec Hutt was hit by a pitch and replaced by pinch runner Cooper Manwarren. Zack Vergiels walked, and Phillip McGovern blooped a single to right to load the bases.
Jason Bradshaw then singled through the left side of the infield to score Manwarren, and Vergiels came around to score the go-ahead run when Austin Blake didn’t field the ball cleanly in left.
“They fought; they did,” Gators coach Matt Stoner said. “They fought back. Now we’ve just to go see what happens tomorrow.”
Rancho had taken a 4-3 advantage in the fourth when Kevin Kline hit a two-run homer to center, followed by a solo shot to left-center field by Eric Holdren.
James Durbin threw 4 2/3 innings of hitless relief to get the win for the Gators. He struck out four and walked one.
“He’s been kind of our unsung hero here in the last two weeks,” Stoner said. “He just goes in there and throws strikes. Nothing fancy.”
With the Gators already having played three games in the tournament, Stoner acknowledged his pitching staff is thin.
“We’ve got guys that haven’t pitched that much that are going to have to go in there and battle,” Stoner said. “Our offense is going to have to carry us.”
Green Valley 12, Spanish Springs 4 — The Gators surged to a 12-0 lead and held on to eliminate the Cougars (26-11).
Hutt faced one over the minimum through five innings before Spanish Springs got to him in the sixth, scoring three runs on a three-run homer by Chase Kittilsen.
Hutt allowed five hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked none.
Brett Harrison was 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs for the Gators, who led 12-0 before the Cougars scored three to force a seventh inning.
Darek Harmon went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, and Gabe Douglas, Vergiels and Manwarren each had two hits for the Gators.
Vergiels scored three runs, and Manwarren had a triple and two runs. Douglas had a two-run single to key a four-run second for Green Valley.