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Gahr’s early defensive blunder costly in quarterfinal setback to Redondo Union

CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION III BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

By Loren Kopff

It’s not too often that Gahr’s baseball team will find itself trailing in the first inning before coming up to bat. It only happened five times in the regular season but twice the Gladiators were able to come back for the victory.

In a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III quarterfinal game against visiting Redondo Union last Friday, the Gladiators trailed 2-0 heading into the bottom of the first. But it was those two runs, both unearned, and the pitching of Cassius Hamm that kept the hosts from advancing to the semifinals as the Seahawks held on for a 3-2 win.

“The big key for us is to jump ahead,” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “I think our kids handle it a little bit better. They press a little bit less and they stay within their own. They don’t try to be somebody that they’re not.”

Duncan McKinnon began the game with a base hit on the first pitch and advanced on a sacrifice. After Cain Castor was hit by a pitch from junior Paul Versteeg, Brady Dorn hit a grounder that turned into an error and loaded the bases. Two batters later, Hamm singled to center to bring in McKinnon and Castor.

The Gladiators trimmed their deficit in half in the bottom of the second when Hamm walked sophomore designated hitter David Balboa, who had fouled off three pitches to stay alive. After a strikeout, sophomore shortstop Jesus Salazar singled down the third base line and that was followed by a base knock to right from junior left fielder Joe Dressel.

But the second pivotal play of the game came on the next pitch when sophomore catcher Victor Salazar attempted to get a bunt down. Instead, it went right back to Hamm, who then doubled up Dressel at first to end any further damage.

“We had some opportunities to make some timely hits,” Perez said. “We had a chance to make it 2-2 with our bread and butter patented safety squeeze and it turned into a double play.”

Versteeg kept Gahr in the game despite the Seahawks putting two on with one out in the third. Then he surrendered a leadoff single to Cole Henderson in the fourth. One batter later, Versteeg was replaced by senior Valentine Flores, who faced one batter. Senior George Castillo wrapped up the game, pitching nearly four innings, scattering four hits and striking out three.

“I think Paul came out and we had a game plan set in and we were able to follow the game plan,” Perez said. “As far as breaking it up, we knew the game was going to have Castillo at the end of it.”

After Redondo scored what would eventually be the insurance run in the sixth, the Gladiators had an opportunity to get it back in their half of the frame. With one out, Hamm plunked Balboa and following a strikeout, Jesus Salazar doubled to the left field gap. But Dressel popped up to third to end the threat.

With two outs in the final inning, junior center fielder Albert Avila reached on a fielder’s choice and moved to second on a wild pitch before coming home on a double from senior second baseman Jaime Estrada.

“I think that’s vintage Jaime,” Perez said. “He got two strikes on himself and he was able to fight off some pitches. I call it, ‘slap a double to left’. He got 40 hits a year just about for four straight years doing that. That’s his niche.”

But Hamm ended the game by striking out junior right fielder Leotis Johnson on his 129th pitch of the game. Hamm would give up half a dozen hits, walk four and strike out five. Twice he left a Gahr runner at third and only had one perfect inning, the bottom of the first.

“In high school baseball, nothing surprises you a little bit just because of the inconsistencies all the way across the board,” Perez said. “He was still throwing strikes and competing. I did think we had some really good at-bats and we mixed in some full counts. At the end of the day, based on the defensive mishaps and the lack of execution and how we didn’t get on top of the baseball, I think it played into their hand a little bit.”

Gahr ends the season at 22-11-1 and advanced to the quarterfinals for the sixth time in 10 seasons under Perez. All six times, the Gladiators won at least 20 games. Before Perez took over the Gahr reigns, the program had made nine trips to the quarterfinals. Gahr, which was somewhat young in varsity experience this season, will return a huge chunk of its everyday lineup next season.

“I couldn’t be more proud of first and foremost how this group did in the classroom,” Perez said. “This is probably the most academic group I’ve had as far as a whole. Number two, I’m proud with how they kept sticking with it. It’s not easy when you play the schedule we played, and we try to put so much emphasis on perfect practice. It isn’t easy to grind it out.”