Chris Sheff didn’t think he’d get back into coaching high school baseball.
He had a successful run his first time as the Bishop Gorman coach, winning five straight state titles in the top classification (2006-10) and finishing with a 228-45-2 record in seven seasons (2004-10).
But Sheff admitted that after some time away he was looking for some more excitement aside from just coaching his club baseball team. When he was approached about returning to Gorman, he said it seemed like the right time.
In the first year of Sheff’s second stint, Gorman is the favorite entering Thursday’s Class 5A state baseball tournament in Reno. The Gaels, the South’s No. 1 seed after winning the region title last Friday, are looking to win their ninth state title and first since 2015.
Gorman will face Damonte Ranch, the No. 2 seed from the North, in an opening-round game at 6:30 p.m. at UNR’s Peccole Park. Desert Oasis, the South’s No. 2 seed, will open the tournament against Northern champion Bishop Manogue at 4 p.m.
“It’s an important state tournament for the baseball program,” Sheff said. “More so for the kids, they’ve never experienced winning a state title. I’ve told them all along, if you win a state title, you never forget your group. You’ll be connected forever and have great memories.”
The Gaels rolled to a 32-2 record and are ranked fifth nationally by MaxPreps. They used a combination of strong starting pitching and defense to put together a dominant season.
Offensively, Burke Mabeus (.443 batting average) and Easton Shelton (.416) have consistently led the Gaels, but Sheff said everyone throughout the lineup has shown the ability to have a big game at the plate.
“It makes us tough to beat because it’s hard to just pitch around a guy or two,” Sheff said.
Gorman is expected to face Damonte Ranch ace Dylan Rogers, a UNLV baseball commit, on Thursday. Throughout the Gaels’ national schedule, Sheff said he’s been impressed with his team’s steadiness and ability to win close games against quality pitching.
“We won’t be intimidated by arms because we faced a ton of national arms this year, but we will also have to have quality at-bats and grind some things out to beat an arm like that,” Sheff said.
Desert Oasis handed Bishop Gorman its first loss on March 22. Diamondbacks coach Paul Buboltz said that win gave his team a lot of confidence that they could reach the state tournament, but said they aren’t looking ahead.
Like Gorman, Desert Oasis played in several tournaments against teams from across the country.
Buboltz said it was the toughest schedule he’s put together, but believes facing out-of-state opponents paired with winning key games against 5A Southern opponents — like an 8-7 win over reigning state champion Basic to qualify for the state tournament — has paid off.
“To be the best, you have to play the best,” Buboltz said, “Our schedule really proved beneficial for our team by playing some of the tougher teams on the West Coast and in the country. It made us a better team.”
Desert Oasis played Bishop Manogue in an opening-season tournament. The Diamondbacks lost 8-4 on March 3. Buboltz said Bishop Manogue is a veteran team and the first game should be a challenge.
Buboltz said he isn’t changing his approach to prepare for the state tournament. The Diamondbacks have relied on their senior pitchers, led by Southern California commit Seth Graham-Pippin, to get them to the state tournament.
Buboltz, who led Desert Oasis to the title in 2019, said the way the Diamondbacks found ways to win against quality opponents gives him confidence that they are ready for this week.
“The dream is still alive for them,” Buboltz said. “I think we got a good shot to get it done up there.”