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Cerritos softball sweeps Gahr as city rivalry is renewed

By Loren Kopff

The softball stars from the city of Cerritos over the past seven years or so came out this past Tuesday afternoon in the long awaited, much anticipated meeting between Cerritos and host Gahr. When the second game of the doubleheader, originally scheduled for Mar. 4, had concluded, the Lady Dons barely staved off a furious Gahr rally to sweep the two games.

Cerritos junior Jennifer Iseri outdueled Gahr junior Deidra Genera in a matchup of pitching aces in the first game as Cerritos scored all three of its runs in the top of the sixth in a 3-1 victory. In the second game, it was all about the offense as the two teams combined for 29 hits and although the Gladiators scored eight runs in the bottom of the sixth, it wasn’t enough as Cerritos held on for a 12-10 win.

“That’s what normally happens when you get two No.1’s going against each other,” said first-year Cerritos head coach Mike Freeman of the opener. “With two good pitchers, I expected that. And I figured the second game would be what it was. So, I’m not shocked by that either.”

“I’m glad we made it a close game in the last one because it did get out of hand for a little bit,” said Gahr head coach Shawn Quarles. “But you figured with the rivalry, the girls didn’t want to give up. I’m glad we made it interesting in both games.”

In the first game, Genera allowed only one Cerritos runner to get to second through the first five innings, and that didn’t happen until junior center fielder Melanie Okazaki led off the fourth with an infield single and was sacrificed to second. But she would be doubled up at third when junior catcher Heather Cameron popped up to junior first baseman Celeste Gonzalez in foul territory.

Meanwhile, Iseri was carving through Gahr’s potent offense through the first six innings, facing three over the minimum, striking out nine and also allowing one runner to get to second. That came in the fourth when freshman third baseman Malia Quarles doubled with one out.

The top of the sixth began with Gahr junior shortstop Deja Portillo making a diving catch in foul territory off the bat of freshman Lailoni Mayfield. But Genera hit Okazaki and surrendered consecutive hits to senior second baseman Lilianna Herrera and junior first baseman Madison Lee. After the second out, junior right fielder Leeann Tran’s base hit to left field brought in Herrera and Lee.

Freeman credits his hitters being more patient and going the opposite way as part of scoring the three runs. He also said the players were beginning to hit the ball in the gaps and letting the ball travel a little bit more.

That was more than enough for Iseri over the next two innings. The lone Gahr run came in the bottom of the seventh when Iseri hit freshman catcher Alyssa Kumiyama and gave up a base hit to Gonzalez. Two batters later, a groundout from sophomore center fielder Alyssa Cuffia allowed senior pinch runner Erica Balboa to score. But Iseri notched her 10th strikeout to end the game. Both teams combined for eight hits.

“Anything less than that I would be shocked because she’s such a good player,” Freeman said of Iseri. “She’s very steady.”

However, it would be a much different story in the second game and it began with Iseri launching a home run over the left field fence on the second pitch thrown by freshman Naomi Dickerson. The Gladiators (7-7 overall) responded in their half of the first as Portillo singled and one out later, Quarles doubled her in. That was followed by a base hit from Kumiyama.

But the Lady Dons would regain the lead in the second inning and continue to add on at least one run over the next four innings. With Cerritos leading 4-2, Iseri, junior center fielder Megan Darling and Okazaki had successive two-out singles to increase the score to 6-2. Then in the sixth with the score 8-2, Cerritos scored four more runs which proved to be insurance runs.

“I think it was a matter of better hitting against our pitching as far as that game,” Shawn Quarles said. “We have a young pitcher and she wasn’t hitting her spots. We were at the will of those batters and nothing was really working as far as her pitches.”

But the Gladiators, who saw Dana Hills score six runs in the bottom of the sixth to come back for a 10-9 win on Mar. 15, decided to make this renewed city rivalry interesting. With one out and runners on the corners, Malia Quarles hit her team-leading fifth home run over the left field fence. Okazaki then walked Kumiyama and yielded a single to Gonzalez before junior second baseman Brianna Besenty doubled in two runs. A walk to Balboa, a double from sophomore left fielder Alyssa Rodriguez and another two-bagger from Cuffia made it 12-10 and ended Okazaki’s day in the circle. Iseri came in and struck out five batters to get the save. Iseri also went three for four and drove in three runs in the second game while Okazaki went three for five and a run batted in.

“We came out very aggressive, feeling good about ourselves after the first win,” Freeman said. “The pressure was off a little bit because you’re always thinking a split when you play a school like [Gahr]. So in the second game, we came out like we had nothing to lose at the time.”

Cerritos, which improved to 4-1 after the sweep, visited Artesia this past Wednesday in the Suburban League opener and blasted the Pioneers 13-0 as Iseri and Okazaki combined on a five-inning no-hitter. Both teams will meet at Cerritos today before the Lady Dons host Bellflower on Wednesday.

For Gahr, which stranded 11 runners in the game, Malia Quarles went four for five with four RBI while Cuffia picked up three hits. Eight of the nine starters picked up at least one hit as Gahr’s team batting average was at .358 following the game with five everyday players hitting well above the team average.

Gahr visited Whittier Christian on Mar. 27 in its final non league contest. Gahr will host Downey on Tuesday for the San Gabriel Valley League opener before visiting Lynwood on Thursday.

“That’s what we’ve been focused on this whole time…getting ready for league and really trying to put our best foot forward by the time league comes around,” Shawn Quarles said. “We’re excited that league is coming and we think we’re ready.”

Both coaches already confirmed that the two schools will play again next season, either back at Gahr or possibly at the Cerritos Sports Complex. Most likely, it will be another doubleheader. Before this past Tuesday, the last time Cerritos and Gahr played a doubleheader was on Mar. 14, 2002 when Cerritos rallied for victories of 2-1 in first game and 5-4 in the nightcap.