Rancho baseball undergoes revival since stepping onto new field
I was there in the spring of 2008 when Rancho High christened its new baseball field with an alumni game — older, chubby guys vs. the varsity. I was there because it’s easy to have affinity for schools such as Rancho, which struggle to keep up with their suburban contemporaries in sports, mostly due to, well, their “inner-citiness.”
I was also there because the affable Tex Anthony had asked me to come out. When guys named Tex turn on the charm, it’s hard to say no.
Anthony, who hails from Amarillo, Texas, had coached the Rams to state baseball titles in 1974 and ’76, the seventh, eighth and last time Rancho took home the first-place hardware. It was easier to win first-place trophies then; there wasn’t as much competition and there wasn’t Bishop Gorman. When it opened in 1954, Rancho was one of just three high schools in the valley, along with Las Vegas and Basic.
So there is baseball tradition at Rancho: In one three-year period during the halcyon days, nine Rams were drafted by major league clubs; four — Marty Barrett, brother Tommy, Mike Maddux and Mike Morgan — made it all the way to The Show.
Thirty years later, there was mostly broken glass in the infield, left there by the winos and the down-on-their-luck types who would often spend the night at Hartke Park in North Las Vegas, the practice home of the Rams before the new field was built.
For two years, the team played nothing but away games. With all respect due the pro wrestling tag team of Michael “Hawk” Hegstrand and Joseph “Animal” Laurinaitis, the Rams were Road Warriors in the literal sense, although they were never penalized for carrying foreign objects into the ring.
But Rancho didn’t win nearly as often as those guys.
The Rams, in fact, hardly won at all.
It’s hard to hit the cutoff man when winos are sprawled across the outfield grass, hard to compete when school boundary lines keep shifting amid the winds of urban sprawl, allowing shortstops and center fielders and pitchers who throw 90 mph heat to enroll at other schools, nicer schools, where kids drive to class instead of ride the bus and most of the girls look like Phoebe Cates in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Or today’s equivalent.
This new field, Tex Anthony said, was going to help. And this new coach, a former Rams player named Tom Pletsch, a member of the junior varsity team the last time Rancho won state in 1976, understood the value of teaching the fundamentals and of paying homage to the past and of literally building something the new players could be proud of.
But this new field was still in the middle of the inner-city. There were apartments beyond the right-field fence. At the suburban schools, about the only things one finds beyond the right-field fence are acres of space, or maybe a Starbucks.
The first guy to bat that day was a former Ram named Mike Villa, neither old nor chubby. There was a loud PING! Then there was a baseball, crushed on one side, bouncing around the apartments on 21st Street, around 400 feet from home plate. And it became apparent, at least to a mostly neutral observer, that if Rancho was going to embark on a baseball renaissance, it might take more than this new diamond.
It might take some players from the other sides of town.
Under the Clark County School District’s magnet system, students from outside the Rancho zone are allowed to study in its specialized aviation and medicine programs. More than a third of the Rancho student body — and 31 of the 34 players in the baseball program — were chosen via a magnet school lottery based on scholarship and citizenship and, jealous rivals charge, their ability to hit, pitch and catch a baseball, or play other sports.
Pletsch admits were it not for the magnet program, there is no way the Rams would be ranked No. 3 in the state. Socio-economic factors prevent most students who grow up within Rancho’s traditional boundaries from playing baseball year-round, or even purchasing the equipment it takes to play; upon returning as coach, Pletsch was alarmed to find only eight used-up bats in the Rancho equipment bag. Don’t even ask about the condition of the catcher’s gear.
The first year on the new field, the Rams went 17-16. Last year, Rancho lost to Bishop Gorman in the state title game after beating the Gaels to get there. This year, the Rams are 28-4, after pulling out a 5-4 victory in the bottom of the seventh inning against Liberty in Monday’s Sunrise Region playoffs.
In Pletsch’s first year as coach in 2006, Rancho won six games and lost 19. Over the past three years, it has won 88 and lost 17. This is a renaissance of Machiavellian proportions.
Bishop Gorman, of course, has this thing about standing high and mighty in the face of any renaissance.
But as daylight faded to dusk on a brisk and overcast Monday afternoon, the Rancho High baseball team had recalled its glorious past by winning another game in dramatic fashion. It had given the baseball bards something to think about.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.
Coach Pletsch has a long history with Rancho High School starting as a student, Rams football player (1976,77, and 78) and completing his education as a Rancho graduate. Coach Pletsch returned to Rancho in 2006 as a PE teacher. He wanted to be the head football coach but the position was filled. Although he had never coached a high school baseball team he agreed to take on the challenge.
In the first season (2006) Pletsch coached his young baseball team which won 6 games and lost 19.By 2008 Pletsch led the team to an incredible turn around by winning 17 games and losing 16! By 2010, only 4 years later, his team won 30 games and lost 3 which earned them a spot in state tournaments. This was the first time in 33 years that Rancho’s baseball team had reached this level.
Rams right baseball record, Rancho High’s reputation
By Ray Brewer
Thursday, May 20, 2010 | 2 a.m.
Rancho Baseball Headed to State
Three years ago, Rancho High School baseball coach Tom Pletsch was picking up pieces of broken beer bottles to clear a place for his team to practice.His players still tell stories of those afternoons at North Las Vegas’ Hartke Park, when chasing baseballs involved navigating around homeless people sleeping in the outfield.
They can laugh about those days now.
Rancho’s players will take the field this afternoon at Aces Ballpark — a state-of-the-art, 9,100-seat Triple-A facility in downtown Reno — to face Northern Nevada’s Galena High in the large-school state semifinals. It’s the first time Rancho has been in the state event since 1977.
It’s also a long way from 2006, Pletsch’s first season leading the Rancho Rams, when the team won only six of 25 games. It was also the first of the two seasons the team had to practice at Hartke while the on-campus baseball complex was being renovated as part of a long overdue makeover of the entire school.
Now Rancho is three wins away from a state title. Most people say Rancho’s chances are slim given that Bishop Gorman, a private school team ranked fourth in the nation by Baseball America, is vying to be Nevada’s champion for the fifth consecutive year.
Some are even saying the Rams are out of their league rubbing shoulders with the state’s high school baseball royalty.
“People think we are from the ghetto and this is some lowlife school,” junior infielder Kevin Kline said. “But the reality is that this is a great school with great teachers and students. All someone would have to do is spend one day here to know the truth.”
When Rancho beat a team from a more affluent neighborhood during a summer American Legion game a few years back, one of the players from the opposing team angrily told the Rams: “Go back to the ghetto.”
The ghetto references are something players have learned to deal with. Yes, the school on the border of downtown Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, is in what’s considered a rough neighborhood, but a third of Rancho’s nearly 3,000 students are part of a medical and aviation magnet program and come from throughout the Clark County School District. They go through a rigorous application process based on academics, testing and citizenship. Then, if they qualify, they get into the lottery from which the program’s students are randomly selected.
Fourteen of the baseball team’s 15 players are part of the magnet school, combining for a 3.48 grade-point average. Four players have GPAs of at least 3.9.
Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the team’s bus was to leave for Reno, two players arrived 30 minutes late for the final practice before the state tournament.
“Sorry, I had to meet with one of my teachers,” one of the players explained.
“We always get a bad rap because a lot of people have the perception that Rancho is the low-income school,” Pletsch said. “But we have some really fantastic kids who go to school here. Nothing happens at Rancho that doesn’t happen at other schools. Like other schools, we probably have 5 percent bad apples, too. But don’t judge all of our kids on that 5 percent.”
When Pletsch, a 1979 graduate of Rancho, took charge of the team four years ago, his first priority was restoring the program’s storied tradition. One of the area’s oldest schools, Rancho’s baseball team won eight state championships. The first title was in 1959.
Notable big leaguers Marty Barrett, Mike Maddux and Mike Morgan all played at Rancho, helping to lead the Rams to three state titles from 1973-76. One of the first things Pletsch did when he took over was coordinate an annual golf tournament and alumni game to bring the legends back to the program. It was one of several moves that appears to have worked.
“What Tom has done at Rancho has just been a miracle,” said Tex Anthony, who coached Rancho to state titles in 1974 and 1976. “I just can’t believe that he has been able to accomplish so much in such a short time. Everyone I still talk to from back in the day says they can’t believe Rancho is coming back up and how neat it is.”
Linking past to present helped kick-start the transition. The players’ performance on the field has done the rest.
Rancho went 6-19 in Pletsch’s first season of 2006, but posted a winning record of 17-16 by 2008 during the program’s first year back at its on-campus facility.
Pletsch started four freshmen that spring — his son, shortstop Brandon Pletsch, pitcher Eric Holdren, Kline and pitcher Zak Qualls — in setting the table for the future.
This year, they enter the state tournament with a 30-3 record, with two of the defeats coming by a combined five runs.
In the regional playoffs, Qualls pitched a no-hitter to upset Green Valley, 2-1. It was the first time Green Valley, one of the area’s powerhouses, has been no-hit in the school’s 19-year history.
Rancho topped Green Valley 11-5 on Saturday in the double-elimination event’s title game, becoming the first school from the Northeast League to win the Sunrise regional crown since Southern Nevada high school athletics was divided into regions 11 years ago. Most years, schools from the Henderson area dominate the low-income schools of the Northeast.
“They are a very solid baseball team,” Green Valley coach Nick Garritano said. “One through nine, they hit the ball around against us pretty good. As long as they don’t get caught up in the magnitude of the state tournament, they should make a run at it.”
Beating Gorman might be easier said than done, but Pletsch points to close contests the teams have had against each other during the fall and summer seasons. They were tied at 4-all in the eighth inning of the Legion state tournament last summer before Gorman pulled away.
“Our motto has been to respect everyone, but fear nobody,” Pletsch said.
Indeed, his players seem to deal with their underdog role in the same way that they shrug off the stereotyping of their school.
But no matter the outcome, they’ve been part of one of the best turnarounds in recent local prep sports history, and a season that the likes of Maddux, Morgan and Barrett would be proud of.
Coach Pletsch’s motto is “respect everyone but fear nobody.”It is obvious that coach Pletsch has the leadership and skills to turn around the Rams football team. He is implementing a new training program which will teach players how to win. Coach Pletsch believes in rigorous training and has indicated that he will make sure each player understands . . . “It is easy to quit –Championships are built through hard work!”
“January 5th –the journey will begin. There will be some ups and downs, but our success will be due to the commitment level of each individual in the program!” Quote from Coach Tom Pletsch, December 2014.