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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
DOWNEY-Whenever Gahr High’s softball team faces Warren High, you know you can count on a close, competitive game. Lately, it’s been the only marquee matchup in the San Gabriel Valley League as the past eight meetings have been decided by four runs or less.
But sophomore left fielder Jazmine Hill and her teammates made sure this game would be decided by more than four runs. In fact, the game ended in five innings, the first time it’s happened for Gahr in over 20 years in a Lady Gladiator victory. Hill slammed consecutive home runs in as many at-bats and the Lady Gladiators touched up a pair of Warren pitchers to the tune of 14 hits as they slammed the Bears 15-3. It’s the widest margin of victory by Gahr over Warren since May 1, 1998, a 9-1 victory.
“My girls were able to get good at-bats and be patient and were able to put the bat on the ball solidly,” said Gahr head coach Shawn Quarles. “If we do that, concentrate on our game and just take it pitch by pitch, we should be okay.”
Five pitches into the game, Hill hit the first home run. Following two straight outs, senior first baseman Alyssa Kumiyama singled to left and sophomore second baseman Giselle Tapia doubled to the left field gap. That set the stage for junior right fielder Jade Wittman, who doubled down the right field line to make it 3-0.
With one out in the next inning, Hill came up and laced another home run to centerfield to make it 4-0. It was Hill’s fourth home run of the season and her ninth consecutive hit. Hill would be one of four players to record at least a pair of hits.
“I just go up thinking that this is a hittable pitcher,” Hill said. “So, I was just going for a base hit and once I hit the home run, I just made sure I stayed calm; stayed confident because I didn’t want to be overconfident.
“I think from last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Hill continued. “So now, I’m very confident and I believe in myself more. I just relax more and I believe in myself more which allows me to be more comfortable with my at-bats.”
“She’s seeing the ball really well,” Quarles said. “She’s filled in that leadoff role for us since [junior shortstop Dejanae Davis] has been out. She’s just done a great job of it; being patient and really putting the bat on the ball when she needs to. So, we’re excited.”
The Lady Gladiators, still the top ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 2 polls, the eighth-ranked team in the state, according to MaxPreps, and the 16th-ranked team in the nation, added to its lead in the third when Tapia singled and Wittman hit a ground rule double. One out later, freshman designated player Johanna Rodriguez reached on an error and freshman center fielder Ariell Romero hit a sacrifice fly. Rodriguez would then score on the first of three errors to make it 7-0.
The Bears, as they are accustomed to doing quite frequently, came back with all three of their runs in the bottom of the third on four hits and a sacrifice fly. But after a scoreless fourth inning, Gahr put the game away with eight runs in the fifth by sending 12 batters to the plate.
With one out, Wittman homered to center and sophomore shortstop Paloma Usquiano was hit by a pitch. That was followed by back to back doubles from Rodriguez and Romero. Later in the inning, senior third baseman Malia Quarles belted her team-leading sixth home run (at the time) to make it 13-3. A walk to Kumiyama and a triple from Tapia, who would steal home, would round out the scoring.
Tapia and Wittman each picked up three hits while Malia Quarles and Wittman each drive in three runs.
“I expect this to probably be our best game of the league season and to play Warren at home, you’re always going to face a challenge,” Shawn Quarles said. “That’s why it didn’t surprise me when they clawed back in the third. I expected that. [Warren head coach] Mary [Starksen] does a great job with everyone she gets with the talent that she gets and I knew that they were going to be a formidable opponent.”
“We look at Warren more as any other team,” Hill said. “We’re just going to crush them and just do our best. We don’t really look at them as, ‘oh, it’s Warren, we ought to be scared’. We look at them as it’s another team and we have to keep doing our same thing and just kick butt.”
As dominant as the offense was, the pitching was stellar as junior pitcher Danielle Martinez scattered five hits and struck out three in four innings of work. Junior Vanessa Foreman came in to finish the game, allowing a hit and striking out one. Including a 6-4 victory over Los Altos High last Saturday, Martinez was sporting an earned run average of 1.12 while striking out 67 in just over 62 innings of work.
“I think at this age in high school, every year they go through a maturing process and I think that’s what she is going through,” Shawn Quarles said. “She’s just tough as nails. She gets the job done. Mentally, she’s coming along and physically, she’s a very strong girl with super command of her pitches.”
Gahr began the week at 16-0 overall and 2-0 in league play and would travel to Downey High on Apr. 13 before taking nearly two weeks off from scheduled games. When the Lady Gladiators return from Spring Break, they will host Dominguez High on Apr. 25 and La Mirada High the next day in the championship game of the La Mirada Showtime Tournament before going to Lynwood High on Apr. 27.
“We’re just really trying to take it day by day and have fun while we’re doing it,” Shawn Quarles said. “The girls are rolling and the chemistry is good. So, we’re just going to enjoy everybody while we’re out here. We’re just trying to enjoy every game.”
“I think we came in pretty confident,” Hill said. “Our team has been doing pretty good. We all have great chemistry. We love each other no matter what.”