A prep baseball tournament around Thanksgiving ...
It’s a good time to discover what you might have or realize what you don’t, the best situation for a young player to prove his worth or fail trying, all the while not damaging a team’s opportunity for yearlong success.
That’s how Bishop Gorman coach Nick Day approached throwing freshman Jack Little against a talented team from Southern California in November.
Roll the dice. See the kid sink or swim.
Let him eat turkey or look like one.
No harm either way.
“He pitched a complete-game shutout and gave up a few hits,” Day said. “We knew he was good. We knew he was special. But he has obviously exceeded any expectations we had of him in the fall. I wasn’t even sure he would make (varsity). But he only gets better.
“Kids know what they’re getting into, why they come here. But we’re not going to put that kind of pressure on a freshman. (Little) has just stepped up for us. You would think with a freshman, confidence might waver. But it has come to the point where we have as much confidence in him as anyone.”
He didn’t look 15 on Friday afternoon, when Little pitched the Gaels into the Division I state championship game by beating Bonanza 10-1 at College of Southern Nevada.
The Gaels play for an eighth straight state title today against Coronado, which must beat Bishop Gorman twice to finally dethrone a champion that has become more expected around these parts than some teams sporting hideous camouflage jerseys.
You got the feeling while watching the Gaels dispose of Bonanza — it was 2-0 after nine pitches — that the most difficult task for Bishop Gorman players this tournament might be deciding what uniform to wear for the final. It was after Friday’s win when, in unison, they shouted: “White, retro, white.”
I’m guessing that means color of hat, jersey, pants.
Either way, they all seemed very excited about the choice.
Little’s broad smile was probably about something else.
He allowed just six hits and an earned run, striking out four and walking none. He isn’t overpowering and certainly pitches to contact, but few were the Bonanza hitters who squared up much of what Little offered.
This is how you arrive to the doorstep of an eighth straight state championship: When the player you believe will be your No. 1 pitcher (senior Neiko Martinez) is injured, others come forward and produce. Yes, even the youngest ones.
It’s tough to play and make an impact as a freshman at Bishop Gorman. Special ones do. Jeff Malm. Joey Gallo. Kenny Meimerstorf is a senior outfielder who played some his first year. As good as sophomore shortstop Cadyn Grenier is, and he’s terrific, he struggled to find much time last year.
It’s a byproduct of enormous success — proving yourself becomes that much more difficult for underclassmen — and yet Little has done so to the tune of a 7-1 record this season.
He joined Bishop Gorman’s legion team in the seventh grade, never imagining once he reached high school that he would be handed the ball in such a spot as the one he received Friday.
“My goal this year was to just make the team, and once that happened, I set some other goals,” Little said. “First, I wanted us to win a state championship, and now we’re one win away. It’s an amazing feeling to be so close.
“I also didn’t want to lose any games pitching, but things happen.”
They did against Bonanza in the second game of the regional playoffs, when Little took a 2-1 lead into the seventh, allowed a leadoff single, hit the next batter, was gone and watched as the bullpen gave up the lead in an eventual 8-5 loss.
It’s one reason Little wanted Friday’s game so badly, wanted to avenge the one blemish on his record, wanted to be the one to deliver Bishop Gorman to that familiar doorstep.
“I don’t know what to say — he just does a real good job of minimizing damage,” Day said. “He’s not going to throw no-hitters. He’s not going to have a lot of strikeouts. He’s going to give up some hits and then not let much damage come of it.”
White, retro, white.
Whatever in the world that means, there is a reason the Gaels were able to make such a decision Friday.
A Little man came up big.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.