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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
When the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section baseball brackets were released on May 15, the first thing Gahr High head coach Gerardo Perez did was look at the brackets for Division 2 and 3, which is where the Gladiators had been in the past. He shook his head, then looked at the Division 1 bracket and knew that this was a little different.
After Gahr’s first-round win over Los Alamitos High, Perez was a little bit relaxed after seeing senior Joel Casillas toss a five-hitter, strike out two and not issue a walk in a 5-1 victory. The Gladiators were also aided by a four-run bottom of the first inning in which the San Gabriel Valley League champions reeled off four straight singles.
“I think it gives us a little confidence,” Perez said. “I think it was a good start for us. Once again, we start six sophomores [and] one junior. We’ve showed some growth and some maturity and I’m excited about our guys. I’ve been feeling better about it. I’m excited for them to take the next step as a journey.”
On the fifth pitch of the game, junior shortstop Michael Perez was hit. He would steal second and move to third on a sacrifice from senior first baseman Joshua Haley, a University of Arizona commit. Senior center fielder Je’Von Ward would then ground out to second to bring home Perez.
On the next pitch, sophomore right fielder Andrew Householder singled to the left field gap. That would be followed by base hits from sophomore third baseman J.J. Cruz and sophomore second baseman Tyrese Turner to load the bases. On a full count, sophomore catcher Edward Morales singled to center to plate a pair. Turner would end the big inning by scoring on a wild pitch.
That was more than enough for Casillas, who worked out of danger in the second inning. With one out, Joe Dawson and Chris Rubottom singled and advanced on a wild pitch. But Casillas struck out Casey Buckley and got Will Laws to ground out.
The only run the Griffins would score came in the third when Cole Gilbertson singled and later came home on a sacrifice fly from Mike Townsend. After that, Casillas would not allow any of the five Los Alamitos baserunners to reach second. A fielder’s choice and a double play would end the fourth and the league’s pitcher of the year would retire the final five of the game.
“We’re in a good position,” Gerardo Perez said. “I have two guys who can really pitch and we actually have a complementary defense. We’re really good on the defensive end with Edward behind the plate and Michael and Ty in the middle and Je’Von in center. So, all of that stuff is good.”
Townsend would retire nine straight before walking junior designated hitter Anthony Diaz in the fourth. Gahr added its final tally in the fifth when Michael Perez reached on an error, advanced on Haley’s sacrifice and scored on a single from Ward.
“Hitting behind Michael is not easy for a variety of different reasons,” Gerardo Perez said. “One, if he gets on bases, there are so many things we can do. A lot of it depends on how he feels. On the outside, Josh isn’t your typical [number] two little fast guy. But mentally he is your two hitter. He’s very unselfish, he executes and he does a good job of that.”
The Gladiators would visit Foothill High this past Tuesday and fall 4-1 as the Knights scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. The Gladiators end the season at 15-15.
In other baseball action, John Glenn High lost to Alhambra High 5-3 while Valley Christian High dropped a 14-3 decision to Segerstrom High in a pair of Division 4 first round games last Friday. Glenn ends the season at 16-12 while V.C. concludes at 14-14.
IRVINE-For the second time in as many playoff games, Cerritos High had to rally late to escape with a one-run victory. On May 18, the Lady Dons scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to edge Tesoro High 3-2. This past Tuesday against Woodbridge High, a groundout from senior catcher Celeste Borza brought in sophomore second baseman Niki Ibarra in the top of the fifth and the Suburban League champions held on for a 5-4 win at Deanna Manning Stadium inside Bill Barber Park. Cerritos improved to 20-5 as it travelled to Fullerton High on May 25.
In addition to driving in the game-winning run, Borza, a University of Texas, San Antonio commit who is tied for the team lead with six home runs, drove in Ibarra with the first run of the game in the first.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to stay level-headed because we only needed base hits to win this game,” Borza said. “We had [Ibarra] at third, so all I needed was a slow ground ball on the right side and that’s what I got. Just focusing on a goal and envisioning it, I think that’s what helped me.”
The game began with a walk to Ibarra followed by a base hit from junior pitcher Jennifer Morinishi before Borza’s single. Then with two outs, senior shortstop Lailoni Mayfield brought in Morinishi with a single.
The Warriors would get a run back in the bottom of the first and after a scoreless second, the Lady Dons made it 3-1 in the third when Morinishi singled, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and came home on a sacrifice fly from junior first baseman Kiara Crockett-Pope.
“Whoever scores first, especially for us, it sends out a message right away that we’re not going to let teams score first and let them do their thing and get ahead and gain momentum,” Borza said. “As soon as you score that first run, all the momentum is on your side.”
But Woodbridge would tie the game in the bottom of the third on three straight hits and a groundout from Kayla Guerrero. Then the hosts took a 4-3 lead the next inning when Morinishi walked Kaitlyn Lim with two outs and yielded a base hit to Hannah Sasaki.
In the top of the fifth, freshman center fielder Essence Gibbs beat out an infield single and stole second and Ibarra was safe on an error, allowing Gibbs to tie the game. Then Morinishi came up with her third hit of the game to set the stage for Borza.
“When you go up to bat, everyone knows what their job is,” Borza said. “And when you go up to bat, you shouldn’t be trying to do too much. All you can do is what you know how to do and if you try to do more than that, then you’re not going to come up successful.”
Morinishi, who allowed nine hits but struck out four, worked out of danger in the final two innings. In the sixth with runners on second and third with two outs, she got Sasaki to ground out. Then in the final frame, Joanna Michaels singled but courtesy runner Taylor Wojciechowski was called out for leaving first base early. Morinishi would then get Taylor Caudill to ground out, give up a single to Sabrina Dallas and Guerrero to ground out for the final out of the game.
“We have this connection and we know what pitches are going to work and what pitches aren’t going to work,” Borza said. “Jenny’s a little bulldog; she’s not going to stop fighting. That’s what she is. Jenny’s a small girl but she’s never going to stop fighting.”
In other softball action, Gahr High, the top seeded team in Division 2 and undefeated in all 26 games this season, was stunned by St. Lucy’s High in a 10-4 loss this past Tuesday on the road. The Lady Gladiators saw the hosts score four runs in each of the first two innings before Gahr tacked on three runs in the top of the third. Junior catcher Madison Huskey went three for four with a run scored and a run driven in.
In Division 5 action, upstart Artesia High, making its first trip to the playoffs since 1992, came close to upsetting top-ranked South Torrance. But the Spartans scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth and knocked off the Pioneers 11-7. Artesia ends its season at 10-9.