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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
TORRANCE-As Shawn Quarles was wrapping up his postgame speech to his Gahr High softball team, the fourth-year head coach mentioned two things he wanted to accomplish. One was to win a tournament and the other was to win a San Gabriel Valley League title outright.
Backed by a five-run top of the second inning, the Lady Gladiators built a 7-0 lead on North Torrance High and held on for a 7-5 victory in the championship game of the 5th annual Torrance National Tournament last Saturday night at Charles H. Wilson Park. Gahr won all five games of the tournament and in the process, defeated the defending two-time tournament champions. It was Gahr’s first tournament championship since 2006 when the Lady Gladiators won the Downey Tournament, winning all four games there. Before that, Gahr had not won a tournament since claiming the Thousand Oaks Tournament in 2000.
“That’s a great team; they have a lot of fight in them,” Quarles said of North Torrance. “So I was glad we could get on top of them early and ride that momentum out.”
The spark that ignited the big inning came from Alyssa Kumiyama. The junior catcher, who has verbally committed to the University of South Carolina, belted her first home run of the season, an 0-2 pitch over the centerfield fence. For Kumiyama, who now has 16 home runs in her high school career, it was even sweeter because it came on her 17th birthday. She said that she has spent eight birthdays at the softball field and this was one of the better ones. She added that it’s extra edge to do better when playing on birthday
“I’m just really happy,” Kumiyama said. “Just having my team supporting me and telling me that I can do it and I’m a great hitter…it really helps me improve my confidence which makes me hit a home run.
“Yes, I was getting a little bit frustrated,” she continued on her home run drought. “But I knew my team was behind my back. They were just telling me, ‘your time will come, your time will come’ and evidently it came tonight. I’m just happy it came sooner than later.”
Following two straight strikeouts after the home run, freshman left fielder Jazmine Hill doubled to the left field gap, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a stolen base. Freshman third baseman Paloma Usquiano, who has verbally committed to the University of Arkansas, was hit by a pitch and eventually came home on an error, the first of three straight unearned runs. Sophomore right fielder Madison Huskey, a verbal commit to the University of Washington, and sophomore shortstop Dejanae Davis also scored after being walked by Veronica Garcia.
“Anytime you can get ahead on a team, it kinds of holds them down and you have the momentum,” Quarles said. “We appreciate Kumi coming around when she did. We haven’t had our big hitters hitting today. But in this final game, what I told them was they had to keep their head in there. She and [junior first baseman] Malia [Quarles] came through with a couple of hits each.”
Gahr added to its lead in the next inning when Kumiyama led off with a base hit and went to second on an error. Senior courtesy runner Alyssa Rodriguez, who has verballed to Mayville State University in North Dakota, stole third and scored on a groundout from freshman designated player Hannah Kumiyama, another University of South Carolina verbal commit.
The last run for the Lady Gladiators came in the top of the fifth when senior center fielder Alyssa Cuffia, who be taking her talents to California State University, San Marcos in the fall, was safe on an infield single and scored on North Torrance’s fourth error of the night.
“With the fast start, it really gives us the momentum to show that we can compete with the best of the best,” Alyssa Kumiyama said. “By doing that, we proved that no matter if we’re behind, we can just come back and win every game.”
The fast start was critical because the Saxons, who had been stymied by sophomore pitcher Danielle Martinez through the first four innings, finally put together a mini rally in the fifth. With runners on first and second with one out, Samantha Fernandez singled in a run with a second run coming home on an error. After Veronica Garcia sharply lined out to Cuffia, Lauren Sabihon belted a two-run home run to make it 7-4.
Martinez would work a perfect sixth inning but in the seventh, she surrendered a leadoff double to Desiree Moreno. A run-scoring groundout from Garcia pushed across the final run. Martinez would then induce Sabihon into a groundout and strikeout Toshonnie Baker for the final out of the game. Martinez, who had six decisions in almost 38 innings of action last season, improved to 7-2 this season. She scattered six hits, struck out seven and won four of the five games in the tournament. Martinez was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“She’s maturing so much over these last two weeks with her attitude and her fight,” Shawn Quarles said. “That’s why she got MVP of the tournament.”
“Dani is a great pitcher; she really knows when she really needs to zone in,” Alyssa Kumiyama said. “We’re basically on the same page every game. If she shakes off a pitch, I know exactly what pitch to call. We’re always connecting; we’re always thinking three batters ahead. She and I have that great connection.”
Alyssa Kumiyama and Malia Quarles, who has verballed to the University of California, Los Angeles, each went two for four. Earlier in the evening, Hill led off the top of the seventh with a solo home run to break a tie and allow the Lady Gladiators to edge Agoura High 2-1. It was one of four hits Gahr would get. For the tournament, Hill went three for 10 and scored four runs.
“She’s a great little freshman,” Shawn Quarles said. “She’s a big, strong girl and she’s just getting her confidence and…we’re real happy to have her. She stepped up and had a great tournament.”
Davis (seven for 15, four runs, two runs batted in), Alyssa Kumiyama (six for 14) and freshman second baseman Giselle Tapia (three for 13), a Duke University verbal commit, were named to the All-Tournament Team. The five straight victories allowed the team to push its record to 10-3-1, the best start after 14 games since 2007 when Gahr opened the season with 11 wins in its first 14 games. Gahr had also won 11 of its first 14 games three other times since 1998.
However, this past Tuesday, Gahr was hoping to upset Los Alamitos High, the nation’s top-ranked team, and had a 3-2 lead after five innings. But the Griffins pushed across four runs in the bottom of the sixth and rallied for a 6-4 victory. Davis went three for four while Hill and sophomore outfielder Karrington Houshmandzadeh each picked up a pair of hits.
“I don’t know if we’re peaking yet because there are still some kinks that we have to get out and I don’t think we’re running on all cylinders yet,” Shawn Quarles said. “But I’m just happy they showed up when they needed to show up and they put enough on the board to beat a good team like that and come through in the championship like they did.”
Gahr will host Tesoro High on Tuesday in a makeup game from Mar. 8 for its only game until its San Gabriel Valley League opener at Lynwood High on Apr. 7.
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