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High expectations once again fall short for Gahr, bounced out in CIF quarterfinals

English: State Seal of the California Intersch...

English: State Seal of the California Interscholastic Federation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION III BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

 By Loren Kopff

Time after time, Gerardo Perez talks about what it takes to play baseball at Gahr High School. The nine-year head coach uses the word expectation a lot in his discussions.

With a potent offense that was hovering near the .400 clip and a nearly untouchable pitching staff, this was the season that many thought the Gladiators could bring home their first California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section trophy.

But just like the other 39 times before this season, the phrase, ‘wait until next year’ will be used again. After rallying to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth, Gahr allowed single runs in the fifth and seventh as visiting Diamond Bar upset the third ranked Gladiators 5-3 last Friday in a Division III quarterfinal game. Gahr ends the season at 22-6.

“As far as the expectations, we’re at Gahr High School and [former head coach] Tom [Bergeron] was here for 35 years,” Perez said. “You come here with those expectations. The group of seniors that we have is a classy group of seniors.”

Diamond Bar, the second place team out of the Hacienda League, jumped all over senior Andrew Encinas in the top of the first with a pair of runs via a base hit from Zeph Walters and a double play ground out from Sean Patton.

After leaving the bases loaded in its half of the frame, Gahr got on the board in the second when freshman designated hitter David Balboa reached on an error and scored when senior second baseman Edgar Morales reached on another error. But the San Gabriel Valley League champions stranded two more runners on base.

Now trailing 3-1 with one out in the bottom of the fourth, Walters hit Morales and walked senior catcher Greg Humbert. After the second out, junior center fielder Jaime Estrada laced a two-run triple to the right field gap. However, Walters and Gerardo Ramirez, who pitched the final two innings, allowed one hit the rest of the way and no Gahr runner went past second base. Gahr would strand a dozen runners in the contest.

“It’s really hard to sit back and digest the stranded runners,” Perez said. “Give their guy credit. He’s a good pitcher.”

“We’re fighters,” Encinas said. “That’s how we’ve always been. We’re always going to fight. We love this game so much that we don’t want to lose. I hate to lose more than I love to win. My whole team hates to lose more than we love to win.”

Encinas (8-2), who had not lost since falling to Paramount 1-0 on Mar. 15, worked four innings, gave up two hits, struck out two but also walked two in only 67 pitches. He was replaced in the fifth inning by junior George Castillo.

“I just feel Andrew is really good when he’s down,” Perez said. “He spots the fastball down and…the zone wasn’t to Andrew’s benefit, honestly.”

Offensively, Gahr was held to four hits, the fewest since Apr. 2 against Huntington Beach. It was only the fourth time all season the Gladiators have been held to less than five hits. In 40 trips to the playoffs in school history, Gahr has been knocked out in the quarterfinals eight times and the semifinals six times. The program also advanced to the championship game in 1983 and 1994, losing both times. The 22 victories this season marked the ninth time since 1999 the Gladiators have reached the 20 win plateau and in his nine seasons, Perez has gone at least to the quarterfinals five times.

“Expectations are high but that’s what you want,” Perez said. “In the end, that’s what I want. I want people to say every single year, ‘Gahr is in the running for a CIF championship’. That’s why you’re here.

“I’m just proud of the culture they created here, where kids are interested in playing baseball at Gahr High School,” Perez added. “Good things are happening. It’s a great place to go to school; it’s a great place to play some quality baseball. It’s a great place to get two educations; one in the classroom and one on the field.”

“This feeling is definitely not one I would wish upon anyone,” Encinas said. “My team was the closest team I ever played on. To be a family and for this to happen and have everybody go their separate ways after this is the worst feeling in the world.”

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