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Gahr’s Kumiyama and Quarles rewriting the record books as seniors, seek CIF championship

Seniors Malia Quarles (left) and Alyssa Kumiyama will leave Gahr High as two of the most prolific players in the program’s history.

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

We all know that records are meant to be broken, but for Alyssa Kumiyama and Malia Quarles, it’s more like they are shattering the record books. The two power hitters near the top of the lineup for the Gahr High softball team will finish their illustrious high school careers one and two in almost every offensive category.

Back in the late 1980’s, the Oakland Athletics had the “Bash Brothers”, a.k.a. Mark McGwire and Jose Conseco. From 2014-2017, the Lady Gladiators had the “Bash Sisters”. Through 22 games this season, the two are among the top three in batting average and Quarles, a first and third baseman, will be in the top five in at-bats, hits, runs batted in, doubles, home runs and walks. Kumiyama, who has primarily been a catcher, tore her right ACL against La Mirada High on Apr. 26 and her high school season and career is over. She will have missed the final six games of the regular season plus as many as five playoff game.

“It’s been a joy,” said Gahr head coach Shawn Quarles. “I think I’m extremely both lucky and blessed to have the opportunity to coach both of those talents and not only coach them both, but coach them at the same time and get to have them at the heart of the lineup, three and four. I think it’s going to be very hard to ever kind of top that kind of hitting duo.

“They’re both just wonderful teammates,” he continued. “Both of them are very humble and they just have been wonders to be with for the last four years.”

Entering the May 4 game at Paramount High, Malia Quarles was third on the Lady Gladiators (22-0 overall, 7-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League) with a .525 average, was second with 32 RBI and 10 home runs, tied for third in hits with 32 and third in runs scored with 22. Kumiyama’s final stats reads like this-.564 average, 22 hits, 21 RBI, 15 runs scored, eight home runs, seven doubles, six walks. Even more interesting is the fact that the two have each struck out just twice.

“I think we hit the same,” Malia Quarles said. “If someone hits a home run, then the other hits a home run. We feed off each other. We’re always having competitions, but they’re not bad competitions. We’re pushing each other. I don’t think we’ve ever had a game where one didn’t hit a home run or one didn’t hit a double.”

“Even in practice we have home run hitting contests,” Kumiyama said. “For us, that’s just motivation to push each other. That’s just our job to help each other out.”

Even more impressive is the fact that Kumiyama has been able to put up those 2017 numbers despite missing five games earlier this season due to a concussion. Before that, she has been a rock defensively as a catcher. Since she came back, she has been either a first baseman or a designated player.

“Her numbers are great, regardless,” Shawn Quarles said. “But the fact that she did miss a few weeks definitely is impressive. There’s no telling what she could have done.”

The two have been on varsity all four years and have batted third and fourth in the lineup for the better part of their careers. Coming into the Paramount game, Kumiyama had a career batting average of .483, which ranks first in school history while Quarles is second at .454. Kumiyama recently broke the school record for hits (136), which had been held by Celeste Gonzalez (2012-2015). But Quarles will certainly break that as she stands at 132. Kumiyama leaves with 114 RBI (first) while Quarles is five behind. Both have 24 career doubles, tied for first and Kumiyama has the school record in home runs with 29 while Quarles has 26.

In addition, Quarles needs three more runs scored to break the school record, currently at 95, and two more walks for the top spot, which is at 96. Both of those marks are currently held by Deja Portillo (2012-2015).

“We had a feeling we had something special when we knew they would both be here,” Shawn Quarles said. “So, I think our guesses were correct, knowing what they could do. It’s pretty impressive, though. I haven’t looked at numbers like that.”

“I feel like coming into Gahr, we’ve had a goal to do as good as we can because in the previous years before we got here, Gahr had not been doing that well,” Malia Quarles said. “We just wanted to change something. We’re kind of on that right track.”

The two agree that the toughest record to break is the home run mark because as they both say, not everyone can hit a home run. Before they stepped foot on the Gahr campus, Lindsey Marquez (2005-2008) had held the career home run record at eight and no one had more than five in a single season since 2000.

“Ever since Shawn came to coach here, we always knew that we were going to come to Gahr,” Kumiyama said. “There’s no question about it. And we always told each other that we were going to change [things] no matter what. It’s always going to be a good outcome. We were going to be here and set records.

“The way we wanted to change Gahr was push each other but also push our other teammates and make sure that when we left, we knew that our school was left in good hands with years upon years of girls coming in to keep setting that goal of winning CIF,” she continued. “Our goal this year is to win it. But just to keep that legacy is good.”

“It’s pretty crazy because coaches probably know us by now and they probably want to pitch around us,” Malia Quarles said. “Us still trying to hit them over or still being able to is pretty crazy. You would think they would have a number on us now.”

Someone who knows about how to pitch to them, or even around the, is Warren High head coach Mary Starksen, who has seen them for the better part of eight league games just dominate Warren pitching. She recalls the first time she and her team saw them in 2014 they pitched around them and she thought if her pitchers hit their spots, they would get Kumiyama and Quarles to hit where they wanted them to hit. With the two of them hitting next to each other in the lineup, it’s a ‘pick your poison’ scenario because you really can’t afford to put the two of them on.

“With our team hitting right now, I wouldn’t want to pitch to any of us,” Malia Quarles said. “Our whole lineup is stacked and our first and second hitters have been doing so well without [junior shortstop Dejanae]. The first five batters [in the lineup] can hit it over the fence.”

“I think you try to get by them with as little damage as possible,” Shawn Quarles said. “I don’t know how you try get by those two. I think people are stumped every time they come to it. I don’t know if you can tell who is going to hit it out; one of them is definitely going to get a hit off of you, if you’re going by the averages.”

In a road game against Warren two seasons ago, Kumiyama was hit by a pitch in all four of her plate appearances. One of those, she ended up striking out as the umpire determined she leaned into one of those pitches.

“It was definitely an honor,” Kumiyama said. “It was definitely one of those things where, ‘yeah, you’re scared of me. That’s great. Thank you for respecting me as a hitter’. But at the same time, really, you had to hit me? If you want to keep the pitch count down, then just tell the umpire to put [me] on first base.”

“They’re excellent batters, they have great eyes,” Starksen said. “A few times we got them to hit deep fly balls. But they’re very tough. I think Alyssa and Malia are really disciplined. They really see the ball well.”

Starksen, who has been at Warren for 31 years, says she can’t remember Gahr having such a potent duo in the lineup. The only other player who comes close was UCLA head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who played at Gahr in the 1980s.

Kumiyama and the Quarles’ have known each other since they were associated with the 10-Under So Cal Firecrackers travel softball team. Ever since, they have been teammates one way or another.

“A lot of this is natural,” Shawn Quarles said. “She’s definitely been a hard worker her whole life. I first met Alyssa at the beginning of our [So Cal Firecrackers] 10-Under year. She tried out for our 10-Under team and we won ASA Nationals with that 10-Under team. I’ve known Alyssa almost as long as I’ve known my own kid as far as her softball career. As far as knowing what to expect, I knew what I was getting with Alyssa.”

They also won a 12-Under and 14-Under National Championship with the So Cal Athletics. And for Malia, having her dad as a coach is more like having him as a manager. She says he really doesn’t talk to her that much on the field. In fact, they don’t talk softball 24 hours a day. With two sisters and a brother, they don’t want to hear softball talk all the time from Shawn or Malia Quarles.

As the regular season comes to an end, the Lady Gladiators have a shot of an undefeated season. They have been ranked first in Division 2 since the Mar. 13 top 10 polls came out. Gahr is hoping to put behind them the pain of two heartbreaking playoff losses. Two seasons ago, Gahr lost to Grand Terrace High 4-3 in the semifinals and last season, the Lady Gladiators fell to Torrance High 5-4 in the quarterfinals. Both games were at home.

If there was ever a season for Gahr to win a CIF championship, it would be this season. The team is batting .436 and has five players batting over that number. In addition, Gahr has cracked 49 home runs which ranked second all-time in CIF-SS history. The record is 56, set by Chino Hills High just two seasons ago.

“This is definitely a good year to try to get it done,” Shawn Quarles said. “We have great team chemistry and with [those] girls being seniors, I think the team wants to pull it off and pull together and accomplish the mission for them.”

“I want to win so bad and this team is definitely special,” Malia Quarles said. “We can definitely do it. Everybody is on the same track; everybody is on the same page. This is the best time to do it.”

Kumiyama added that the pressure is there, considering that they are the only seniors on the team and this is their last chance to win a CIF championship.

“If we go out and do what we know how to do, it’s just going to be another game,” she added. “Yeah, it’s the game that you want to win. But for us, every game is the game that we want to win.”

“I want a ring; that’s my final words,” Malia Quarles said. “I want a ring so bad and we’re going to fight for that ring. We all want it. It’s just going to be a great time to watch us because we’re all fighting for the same thing.”

 

 

 

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