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IRVINE-The youth movement hasn’t gone as well as Gahr head coach Mike Rogers would have liked but the Gladiators found a brief silver lining last Saturday in the Timberwolf Classic, hosted by Northwood High. Senior pitcher Maya Varela scattered four hits and Gahr snapped a six-game losing streak with a 4-0 win over Laguna Hills at Bill Barber Park.
The numbers this season hasn’t been pretty for the Gladiators, who won for just the second time. Entering the Laguna Hills game, Gahr had scored 20 runs through the first 11 contests. But a three-run first inning brought a smile to Rogers as he’s building a program that currently has five freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and six seniors.
“It was a great win,” Rogers said. “What I liked was Maya had good command of her pitches out there. Our defense was pretty sound and when you don’t make errors and you put the ball in play and you put pressure on [the opponent’s] defense by bunting and hitting and reading the defense, you’re going to win games.”
After Varela needed nine pitches to work through the top of the first, she immediately got all of the support she needed when freshman shortstop Deja Portillo reached on an infield single and moved to second on a passed ball. Senior center fielder Alyssa Nava would then strike out but was still safe at first when the ball went past the Laguna Hills catcher. Portillo would score all the way from second on that play. After another strikeout, freshman first baseman Celeste Gonzalez would also be safe on an infield knock and after a sacrifice bunt from freshman third baseman Vanessa Montanez, Nava and Gonzalez would score on a throwing error that allowed sophomore second baseman Erica Balboa to be safe at second.
After allowing a single to begin the top of the second, Varela sat down 12 of the next 13 batters she faced. Only one Laguna Hills batter reached third and Varela was aided with three line drive outs and a pair of foul territory pop-up outs that were hauled in from senior catcher Krystal Purkey. The final run scored came in the third when Purkey drilled a triple to the right field gap and was replaced by freshman courtesy runner Klarice Rios, who touched the plate after a sacrifice from Gonzalez.
All six hits Gahr got were from six different players but the offense has been sputtering all season long. The team was batting .239 entering its San Gabriel Valley League opener against Paramount this past Tuesday and only Montanez (.444, five runs batted in) and Gonzalez (.379, five RBI) have accounted for 38 percent of the teams’ hits thus far.
“Both of them are just pure hitters,” Rogers said. “They both like to compete. I’m impressed with them. They work hard in practice and it’s not a secret that they’re doing it in the games. They invest a lot of time in their hitting.”
Earlier in the day, Gahr was blasted by Cathedral Catholic 9-0 as the Dons belted three home runs as part of their eight hits. Cathedral Catholic put the game away with six runs in the bottom of the fifth. The Gladiators mustered only two hits from Gonzalez and one from Nava.
“When you’re building a whole new team, bringing up your junior varsity [players] and freshmen, it’s a lot tougher to mend than I anticipated,” Rogers said. “But they’re good kids and they’re going to battle. A lot of schools have freshmen but we have a lot of freshmen and sophomores.”
After a 4-0 loss to Paramount, Gahr sits at 2-11 and will be off until it hosts West Torrance on Wednesday in a doubleheader.
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