Bishop Gorman’s baseball team has become accustomed to defending American Legion state championships this time each year.
This season, however, the Southern Nevada Titans also will face the tougher task of defending a national championship.
The three-time defending state champions won their first national title last summer, and coach Chris Sheff sees no reason why his squad cannot repeat this season.
That quest will begin Saturday when the top-seeded Titans open the state tournament against No. 8 Arbor View (17-16, 12-12 Southern Nevada) at 8 p.m. at Wilson Stadium.
“It’s never easy, that’s for sure,” said Sheff, whose team went 53-12 overall and 18-4 in league play this summer. “It gets a lot tougher as you win because people are obviously out to get you. But we really want to keep our success going.”
The Titans took significant steps toward achieving that goal this summer, dominating in-state and out-of-state competition. Even so, they did suffer some roster losses after winning last year’s national championship.
“This club is very comparable” to last year’s, Sheff said. “But last year’s club was a little bit older. We do have a little less experience now, so some of our young guys are going to have to step up.”
Sheff said he is not worried about his older guys. A core of veterans has led the team this season, especially offensively.
Pitcher/first baseman Jeff Malm (.425) and outfielder/pitcher Joey Rickard (.465) have been longtime staples of Sheff’s offense, and both have reputations of posting big numbers in postseason play.
But utility players Cory Welch and Johnny Field have played even bigger roles in the team’s success this summer.
Field is hitting .537 with 23 home runs, 22 doubles and 110 RBIs, and Welch is batting .502 with 13 homers, three doubles and 74 RBIs.
“Those four guys are going to be key guys,” Sheff said. “They had monster summers.”
Though Sheff acknowledged his desire to return to the regional and national tournaments, he has warned his players not to overlook this week’s state tournament.
“We’re hoping we can get back to regionals,” he said. “But I thought last year that state was some of the toughest competition we had to get through.
“We really have some quality teams in our state.”
The eight-team tournament, which runs through Aug. 1, also will feature second-seeded Sierra Vista (40-22, 14-8), No. 3 Bonanza (14-10, 14-10), No. 4 Green Valley (17-12, 13-9), No. 5 Rancho (19-17, 13-10), No. 6 Reno (36-15, 36-15) and No. 7 Coronado (13-11, 13-11).
Rancho and Green Valley will open the tournament at 5 p.m. Saturday.