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Column: Gorman baseball wins region, celebrates like state champs

There were two outs in the seventh inning on a cool and overcast late Saturday afternoon, and Palo Verde was down to its last out against Bishop Gorman in the 5A Southern Region baseball championship game.

Tommy DiLandri, Palo’s best hitter who had started his prep career at Gorman, turned on a ball and sent it rocketing on a majestic arc toward the intersection of Hualapai Road and Russell Road about a half-mile from the Gaels’ ballpark.

Gorman already led by a touchdown and there wasn’t anybody on base. So DiLandri stood near home plate and admired the prodigious drive.

Only to have the wind knock it down.

Justin Crawford made a routine catch several strides in front of the tall fence in left field. A banner tacked there indicated in bold lettering and numbering that of the 10 state tournaments contested during the past decade, Gorman had emerged victorious in eight.

This was only for the Southern Region, and Gorman usually picks its teeth with region championships. But this one seemed different. It seemed different because for the longest time, it appeared there might not be a 2021 high school baseball season for the same reason there wasn’t one in 2020.

Gorman and Palo Verde and the other high school baseball teams in the valley had outlasted COVID. And then Gorman did the same to Palo, 8-2.

It wasn’t for a state championship.

But judging from the monkey pile of players clad in white uniforms and orange numerals with a big G over their hearts — and the way that even those on the bottom of the scrum near the pitcher’s mound were whooping it up, it sure seemed like one.

Hard work finally realized

It still seemed like one 15 minutes afterward when Gino DiMaria, the Gorman coach, was asked about what the win meant and his voice began to crack.

“It started the year before COVID hit when we changed a lot of things (and) the image of our program,” said DiMaria, whose colorful father, Izzy Marion, was one of the founders of the local American Legion baseball program and, as proprietor of a beauty salon on the Strip, became known as “Hairdresser to the Stars.”

That team of which DiMaria spoke came together and was poised to add to Gorman’s legacy of athletic excellence. It was on the bus, headed for a prestigious tournament in Arizona, when word came down that so had the pandemic. There would be no more runs, hits, errors and apparent home runs transformed into routine fly balls by the wind until further notice.

“We started out the preseason No. 4 in the country and had worked hard to get there,” DiMaria said. “It was tough not to play baseball and say goodbye to the seniors who didn’t get a chance to play. I think the reason the kids are (celebrating enthusiastically) is because they got to play for some kind of championship.”

Quote of the day

Justin Crawford went 3-for 3 with two doubles and walk for Gorman. Santino Panaro, big league prospect Tyler Whitaker and Gavin Mez added two hits each. The Gaels led 2-1 before taking command by scoring five unearned runs in the fourth inning.

But Gorman, which lost only once all season, was the better team — especially with junior right-hander Tyler Avery throwing an abundance of strikes and going the seven-inning distance.

DiMaria was asked about the banner in left field celebrating all the state titles and said this team, which lost only one game, would be recognized in a similar fashion.

“We’re gonna put something up there because they deserve it,” he said, wrapping up the sentiment from his corner of the field. But the day’s most profound quote might have been spoken by a photographer as the Gaels continued to pose with the regional trophy, their families and each other.

“It’s just nice to see the kids playing again,” the shutterbug said, as the sun that was being blocked by darkish blue and gray clouds momentarily forced its way through.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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