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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
When the Gahr High baseball team began the season with a very uncharacteristic eight-game losing streak after winning the first two games, there was no need to panic. Not only were Gladiators playing probably the toughest schedule the program has had, but senior Josh Haley (shoulder) and junior Michael Perez (finger) were sidelined for two weeks with injuries.
But Gahr has turned it around as of late, winning six straight contests including a 2-0 win over Warren High last Thursday.
“I think the first part of the schedule really humbled us the right way,” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “I think our kids felt that they were good as youngsters. And then they realized they weren’t that good as youngsters; that the other team…their mustaches outweighed our precision, and figured out that we needed to do a better job of offensive execution.”
In addition to getting back to .500 at that time, the Gladiators pitching staff posted their fourth straight shutout. Gahr had not been scored upon since the sixth inning against Hart High on Apr. 3 and the team has allowed three runs during the winning streak.
“That’s tough to do in high school baseball,” Gerardo Perez said. “In order to do that, you have to have really good pitching.”
Senior Joel Casillas got the start on the mound and was brilliant, giving up two hits through six innings and retiring 11 straight in one stretch. In the top of the second, Frank Garcia led off with a base hit to center and moved to second on a sacrifice from Kevin Altamirano. But on a 3-1 count to Johnny Johnson, Garcia was thrown out at third from junior catcher Carlos Perez to end that scoring threat.
The Bears would have two on with one out in the sixth before Casillas got Ian Ortiz to fly out to center and Manny Lopez to ground out. Casillas would be chased from the mound in the seventh after yielding back to back singles to Garcia and Altamirano. In came senior William Roberson who would strike out Johnson. Then with a 2-0 count to Ivan Gonzalez, Carlos Perez threw out Garcia at third for the second out. A fielder’s choice would finally end the game.
“I thought he did a great job of strike one, strike two, mixing his speed [and] his tempo,” Gerardo Perez said of Casillas. “I thought he was under control the whole day and I thought he was tremendous.”
Offensively, the Gladiators were stymied early on by Warren’s defense. Senior centerfielder Je’Von Ward was denied of a hit in the first when Gonzalez dove to his right for an inning-ending catch. In the third, a line drive hit by Haley was snared by Lopez followed by another diving catch from Gonzalez to take away a potential hit from sophomore third baseman J.J. Cruz.
But the Gladiators finally broke through when sophomore left fielder Xavier Estrada singled to left, sophomore second baseman Tyrese Turner was hit by a pitch and Michael Perez was walked to load the bases. Estrada then came home on a wild pitch to put the hosts up 1-0.
“They had some key plays; that’s for sure,” Gerardo Perez said. “We still needed to have better at-bats, but in the end, we stuck with it. Getting Michael up with a guy in scoring position helps. He was able to come through.”
The Gladiators (8-11 overall, 4-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League) added an insurance run in the sixth when Turner doubled to the right field gap and scored when Michael Perez doubled. Gahr would be limited to four hits from four players. After losing to Dana Hills High 4-3 in nine innings last Saturday, Gahr would spend this past week participating in the Boras Classic where it fell to Orange Lutheran High 8-2 and Corona High 4-3 this past Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. It would face JSerra High on Apr. 20 and will wrap up the tournament today. The Gladiators get back to league action on Tuesday with a home game against Paramount High.
Gahr and Downey High are tied for first place in the league with Paramount one game behind. Of Gahr’s 16 other non-league games with multiple games against Corona and JSerra, five opponents began the season on the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section’s Division I watch list.
“I am optimistic that we will improve our quality offensively; to make it more difficult on the pitcher to complete a game,” Gerardo Perez said.
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