Gorman set for title defense despite departure of big bat

Bishop Gorman High School’s American Legion baseball team has no shortage of veterans as it opens the World Series on Friday in Fargo, N.D.

But Gorman, playing as the Southern Nevada Titans, will have to defend its national title without the biggest name on its roster.

Gorman first baseman/pitcher Jeff Malm reached an agreement in principle Thursday with the Tampa Bay Rays, who chose him in the fifth round of June’s draft.

Malm, the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Year, hit .421 in 39 games this summer to help the Titans to a Western Regional title. The 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pound left-hander also served recently as the team’s closer.

But Gorman coach Chris Sheff doesn’t think Malm’s absence will dramatically hinder his team’s chances.

“Obviously it takes a big bat out of our lineup, but I wouldn’t expect it to kill us offensively,” said Sheff, whose team averages 11.4 runs per game. “It hurts us on the bump a little bit because he was our closer.”

The Titans (62-12) open the World Series against Northeast Regional winner Berlin, Conn., at 8 a.m. Friday. The eight-team, double-elimination series concludes Tuesday.

Playing in the World Series for the third time in four years, Gorman will attempt to become the first repeat national champion since Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, in 1973 and 1974.

“It’d just be a real honor,” said Gorman’s Erik Van Meetren, a catcher entering his junior season. “It’d be a great feeling, a great accomplishment.

“We have a lot of experience; we’re comfortable. We’re relying on our teammates at any given time to do the job.”

Gorman was 40-4 during the high school season on its way to a fourth straight Class 4A state title and No. 1 national ranking in Baseball America’s final poll. Combined with the high school season, the Titans have played 118 games since March 12.

“I’m sure guys are getting a little exhausted,” Sheff said. “But this is the time of year that means a lot. You get rejuvenated when there’s good crowds in front of you.”

Sheff said right-hander Stephen Manthei will start Friday’s game and he’d like to see lefty Joey Rickard start Saturday, but he’ll “try to win Game 1 at any expense.”

Berlin (34-6) will start right-hander Matt Carasiti, who struck out 17 in a 1-0 regional win over Manchester, N.H., on Aug. 6. The 36th-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers reportedly will fulfill his college commitment to St. John’s.

“We know we’ve got our hands full with him,” Sheff said.