Graduation hit several Las Vegas high school baseball programs hard last year, at least one sooner than expected.
Bryce Harper, considered the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2011, graduated early from Las Vegas High School last June and is attending classes at community college in preparation for the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft.
Harper figured to attract most of the attention in the state of Nevada over the next two baseball seasons after finding a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated last spring, but his absence means that Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) and national coach of the year Chris Sheff will once again be the main attraction in Las Vegas in 2010.
Ranked No. 1 to start the 2009 season, the Gaels suffered two early losses and dropped from the No. 1 spot in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Rankings. However, a state-record 35 straight wins allowed Bishop Gorman to win its fourth straight Nevada 4A state championship. Bishop Gorman began the 2010 season ranked fourth in the Xcellent 25 preseason rankings and currently stands in second place with the season set to start on March 11.
Sheff, who was named the national coach of the year by the National Baseball Coaches Association, loses two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year Jeff Malm, who set numerous career records in his stay before being selected in the MLB draft in June.
Fortunately for the Gaels, another potential record-breaker returns to help them vie for a fifth straight state crown. Johnny Field, an all-state infielder, returns for his senior season after batting .518 with 14 home runs and 78 runs scored last season. His run total is second-best in state history while his 157 career runs ranks seventh. Field also ranks 12th in career hits.
Joining Field on this year’s roster is Erik Van Meetren, who entered his name in the national record books last spring when he hit five home runs in one game. The junior catcher was an all-state pick after batting .496 with 12 home runs and 64 RBI.
Bishop Gorman defeated Cimarron-Memorial (Las Vegas) for the state championship last year, but the Spartans are in a rebuilding mode after losing many from last year’s 33-7 team. That could open the way for Reno, which returns all-state second-team picks Pat Gallagher (IF, .371, 9 HR) and Nick Bietz (OF, .427, 5 HR).
Bonanza (Las Vegas), meanwhile, returns the state’s top prospect in Kris Bryant. The all-state infielder batted .486 with 14 home runs and 34 RBI last year.
Virgin Valley (Mesquite) captured the 3A state championship last year despite posting just a 15-15 record. The Bulldogs defeated Faith Lutheran in the championship game 13-1 to claim the title. While Virgin Valley loses 3A state MVP Travis Leavitt to graduation, nearly the entire lineup for Faith Lutheran (Las Vegas) returns.
All-state players Terry Unruh (pitcher), Bobby Burns (1B), Christian Lopez (2B), and Alex Barnes (Ut) all return. Unruh, Lopez and Barnes are sophomores while Burns is a junior.
Virgin Valley returns a pair of all-state players in Zach Horlacher (P) and Victor Ruvalcaba (DH) while Truckee (Calif.) has MacLane Brady (P) and Jordan Diero (IF).
The top 2A team in Nevada this year will once again be a team from California. Needles (Calif.), which is on the border of Nevada and California and is separated from most of Southern California by Death Valley, defeated Whittell 12-2 in the championship game last year to finish the season 25-7.
The Mustangs return two all-state players in junior Matt McAndrews (.467) and state MVP Bobby Stahel, who batted a whopping .762 with 12 doubles, 11 triples and 56 RBI.
Lake Mead Academy (Henderson) defeated Carlin in the 1A state championship game last year to finish the season 22-7, but Carlin could be the favorite this year to win it all. Carlin returns a number of heavy hitters from last year’s 19-7 squad, including Bubba Mathews (.510), Blayne Newman (.525), Jorge Armendariz (.479) and Chris Salas (.452).