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Versteeg’s complete game shutout sets tone for Gahr’s doubleheader sweep

By Loren Kopff

 LONG BEACH-Gahr’s baseball team may not be as experienced as it was last season but don’t tell that to Long Beach Poly. Junior lefty Paul Versteeg owned the first game of a doubleheader at Blair Field last Saturday afternoon while timely hitting and five Poly errors allowed the Gladiators to complete the sweep in the nightcap.

Versteeg scattered eight hits in picking up the team’s first complete game of the season and Gahr scored four times in the first three innings en route to a 5-0 win. The Gladiators then rallied from two runs down to edge the Jackrabbits 7-6 in the nightcap.

“I think our kids are buying in,” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “If a call doesn’t go your way, whether it’s a strike call or a safe call or somebody makes an error, the general feeling is let’s pick them up and let’s do it anyways regardless of the call, regardless of the situation.”

Versteeg was in a zone in the opener and getting help from his defense at the same time. With runners at the corners and two outs in the bottom of the first, he induced Tai Tiedemann into a groundout. Two innings later with runners on second and third, he got Josh Rios to fly out to senior right fielder Saul Flores. And with the bases loaded with two outs in the fifth, he got out of the jam when Matt Palacios popped up to senior first baseman Nick Guerra.

In all, Versteeg struck out five, walked none and threw 85 pitches in one of the best pitching performances by any Gahr hurler. But according to Perez, it wasn’t the best.

“I would have to say [senior] George Castillo at Mater Dei,” Perez said. “When you no-hit them and strike out 11 or 12…that was a pretty dominant performance. Paul, for four innings at Orange Lutheran, was just as good as he was today. They’re very formidable opponents, so I thought they did well.”

“I felt like today was an important day,” Versteeg said. “I had my defense behind me. There were a lot of ground balls and I relied on my defense a lot.”

Senior designated hitter Adrian Poot’s first of two base hits drove in sophomore third baseman Jesus Salazar in the top of the first for the only run Gahr would need. The Gladiators would add two more in the second, one in the third and the last run in the sixth. Senior shortstop Jaime Estrada went two for three as Gahr was limited to half a dozen hits. But the Jackrabbits also committed five errors.

In the nightcap, the Gladiators built a 4-1 lead after two innings, thanks to Estrada’s two-run triple in the second. But Poly scored three runs in the third and took a 6-4 lead in the fourth.

But with two outs in the sixth, Gahr began to make its comeback. Junior second baseman Joe Dressel singled, moved to second on an error and scored when junior left fielder Leotis Johnson was safe on another error, which eventually allowed him to go to third. Senior right fielder Eric Cummings then tied the game on an infield hit with Johnson coming home.

In the next inning, Gahr took a page out of its playbook from a 2-1, eight inning win against Mater Dei earlier this season. With Estrada on third and Poot on first with one out, junior first baseman Jorge Rivas laid down a bunt that went up the first base side and threw the legs of Poly’s first baseman as Estrada came home.

“When [Jorge] says, ‘let’s a pull a Mater Dei’, which is a real similar ending to the Mater Dei game,” Perez said. “I said, ‘let’s do it’ and we attacked it and that’s part of the game plan we had going in.”

Estrada picked up two more hits while Dressel also had two hits. Guerra pitched the final two innings, striking out two and allowing only one base runner for his first win of the season.

“From an offensive standpoint, we’re executing,” Perez said. “We’ve done a very good job of team offensive baseball. I don’t think we scare anybody. I don’t think we have any mustaches and I don’t think we’re real physical. We’re young but we’re very baseball savvy and we’re a real good team at this point. But we have to continue to grow.”

Gahr would see its five-game winning streak snapped this past Wednesday after falling to Long Beach Wilson 4-2 in a Redondo Tournament game. But at 9-2, the team is just going through the everyday motions and not trying to compare itself to last season’s team, or any other team in the past.

“I just feel like this year we’re a closer team; a lot of bonding this year,” Versteeg said. “Nobody is a powerhouse kind of guy. But everyone has the tools and we can put it together and we work well.”

“I really put a lot of emphasis on having a highly competitive, highly efficient, high level of practice with perfection,” Perez said. “I have to give credit to this coaching staff. Coach [Pepe] Miranda has done a great job. Coach [Ryan] Juarez has done a great job. They’ve really helped formed and developed young guys at an earlier pace with their patience and with their expectations.”

Gahr will host La Serna on Saturday and begin San Gabriel Valley League action on Tuesday with a home game against Warren.