Sierra Vista opened the door in 2010, and Liberty followed in 2012.
A baseball tournament that once was a minor obstacle for Bishop Gorman in its annual conquest of summer baseball championships has become somewhat more unpredictable.
The eight-day American Legion state tournament begins today at UNLV’s Wilson Stadium, and all eight teams enter believing they have a shot at the title.
Among them are some squads that didn’t even qualify for postseason play last summer.
“Our goal from the start was to compete for the state championship,” said Desert Oasis coach Paul Buboltz, whose fourth-seeded Las Vegas Aces (34-19) are playing in their inaugural season. “And things haven’t changed.”
Buboltz said his players are not intimidated by top-seeded Liberty or No. 2 Gorman, saying, “We beat both of those teams in the regular season, so I really think we have a shot.”
The Aces pack a potent offense. First baseman/designated hitter Alex Tafesh is batting .400 with five home runs and 52 RBIs, outfielder Cole Crosby is batting .415 with 20 RBIs, and outfielder Dominic Paratore is batting .420 with a .550 slugging percentage.
“We can score some runs,” Buboltz said. “That’s how we’re winning.”
Also adding new blood to the tournament are eighth-seeded Palo Verde (14-13) and No. 5 Centennial (18-16). The Panthers haven’t been in the tournament since 2007, and Centennial since 2008.
Palo Verde, which struggled for most of the regular season, rallied to grab the final tournament berth.
“We were making vacation plans,” first-year coach Kevin Fiddler said. “But the guys just clicked, and we went on a seven-game winning streak down the stretch.”
Fiddler said Palo Verde’s success has been surprising because the Panthers have not fielded teams in American Legion’s top Gold Division in recent years.
“But we always want to play the Gormans, the Libertys and the Renos,” said Fiddler, who spent several years at Bonanza before moving to Palo Verde this season. “We want to play the big boys.”
Though the newcomers have hope, there also is consensus among the coaches that winning the title will require victories over the perennial powerhouses. Despite the recent state crowns by Sierra Vista and Liberty, Gorman still has won five of the past seven titles.
“When you look at the things they’ve done, they’re still the top guys,” Fiddler said of Liberty and Gorman.
Centennial and Desert Oasis open the tournament at 5 p.m. today, and Palo Verde faces Liberty (25-3) at 8. On Sunday, sixth-seeded Reno (34-18) and third-seeded Cimarron-Memorial (34-8) meet at 5 p.m., and No. 7 Las Vegas (20-14) plays Gorman (30-10) at 8.
The tournament ends Aug. 3.