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SOFTBALL: Gahr has enough in its pitching to hold on late against La Mirada

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

April 7, 2021

The Gahr High softball program, one of the best in Southern California, the state and highly ranked in the nation by MaxPreps.com, has a knack for playing in the close games. The 2020 team played in only six games and won all of them by one run and lost this season’s opener to La Mirada High on Mar. 30 by one run after the Lady Matadores rallied for nine runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.

But last Thursday, Gahr made sure to not to squander a seven-run lead, even though it was getting precarious in the top of the seventh. The Lady Gladiators were able to hold onto this lead and escaped with an 8-6 home win that leveled their record to 1-1.

“Let me tell you, we are so comfortable now playing tight games,” said Gahr head coach Rey Sanchez. “I think that helps us down the stretch, but it doesn’t help my blood pressure. We make things interesting and that’s not our game plan going in. But it is our game plan to make plays under pressure.”

In Gahr’s first game of the season, it had leads of 2-0 and 12-4 before La Mirada stole the show by winning 13-12. In the rematch two days later, the Lady Gladiators scored eight unanswered runs after the Lady Matadores scored first, then watched the visitors score three times in the top of the fifth and two more in the final inning. La Mirada also had runners at the corners before Gahr senior pitcher Ashley Benavides, who had entered the game a batter earlier, struck out junior left fielder Layla Monteon to end the game and thwart another comeback attempt.

Both teams combined for 20 hits in the contest, five fewer than two days ago. But the one difference between the two games, according to La Mirada head coach Brent Tuttle, was the pitching. Gahr senior Valerie Alvarez, who did not pitch in first meeting, worked into the seventh, got eight ground ball outs and was aided by a pair of double plays.

“The pitching was a lot slower than we’re used to,” said La Mirada head coach Brent Tuttle. “So, it’s a timing issue. You’re popping stuff up and once we get that timing down…today we just didn’t do it fully. You could see there were a lot of pop-ups [and] weak groundballs that were just over in front of the front foot. That’s our weakness; we can’t hit slow pitching.”

“Both teams swing the bat; we’re really good about swinging the bat,” Sanchez said. “La Mirada is a great offensive team. There’s no doubt; they’re a great team. I think we were able to do a good job of throwing quality strikes late in the game. The difference was Ashley came in and threw more quality strikes late for us, and she didn’t do that in game one.”

After a sacrifice fly from junior center fielder Grace Archuleta plated senior designated player Lauren Hutchings to give La Mirada a 1-0 lead in the top of the second, the hosts tied the game in their half of the frame when freshman third baseman Marley Cortez doubled to the right field gap and came home on a base hit from sophomore left fielder Hailey Sanchez.

In the next inning, UCLA-bound senior shortstop Taylor Stephens singled with one out, stole second and came home on a single from Alvarez. Following a groundout, junior first baseman Amanda Ta’amu hit a line drive to junior right fielder Peyton Powers who appeared to have made a diving catch. But the ball trickled out of her glove, allowing Alvarez came home for a 3-1 lead.

Gahr added to its lead in the next inning, scoring five times while sending eight batters to the plate. Hailey Sanchez smacked a two-run home run just to the right of dead center to begin the scoring in the inning and Stephens later added a run-scoring hit, her third of the game, to make it 7-1.

Through the first four innings, Alvarez had allowed four hits and walked three as La Mirada had stranded five runners on base. But double plays in the first and fourth ended any scoring opportunities.

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s any difference between all three of them,” Tuttle said of Gahr’s pitching. “When you consider high school pitching, they’re below on speed average. We had faced [Alvarez] before. It was two years ago when she pitched for Bellflower in our league. Again, it’s just a timing issue and our next few games, and that’s what scares me, we’re going to see girls who are throwing in their 60s now.”

La Mirada senior second baseman Dominique Ford led off the top of the fifth with a home run to left field and that was followed by a double to center from senior shortstop Alexa Sams. One out later, senior catcher Alyssa Campbell cranked a two-run shot over the left field fence and just like that, it was 8-4.

After Alvarez had the game’s only perfect inning in the sixth, La Mirada went to work again in the seventh, beginning with a walk to Ford. One out later, Alvarez hit senior first baseman Savannah Adams and Campbell would reach on a fielder’s choice, allowing Ford to get to third. A single from senior third baseman Josie Dipillo would mark the end of the day for Alvarez and after an error allowed Hutchings to reach first, Benavides ended the game with her strikeout of Monteon.

Ford, Monteon and Sams all had a pair of hits and Campbell drove in two runs for the Lady Matadores (4-2) while Stephens went three for four and scored twice. But Cortez, batting seventh in the lineup, went three for three and scored twice and Hailey Sanchez, batting right behind Cortez, went two for two and drove in three runs.

“When you get production, and that happened in the first game too, from the bottom of the lineup, you’re going to be okay,” Sanchez said. “Because there are a lot of teams at the high school level that don’t have that depth down deep [in the lineup]. They’re a solid four or five but then you’ve got some outs in there. I feel pretty confident about our lineup.”

The two-game series with La Mirada most likely was a prelude to what to expect in the near future. First, the two schools are in Division 1 and could meet in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs in early June. Also, there have been recent speculations that Gahr and La Mirada would be in the same league and would form some type of ‘super conference”. That could happen as early as the 2021-2022 school year.

“That could be a possibility,” Rey Sanchez said. “I don’t want to speculate; there’s been talks about putting teams together. And they’re local; they’re close. It’s going to be a competitive game for years to come with them. It’s never going to be easy. We’re going to battle them; they’re going to battle us. That I know.”

“We don’t think of anyone as a rival, but I think it’s just going to make us stronger,” Tuttle said. “Do I agree with the power conference? Probably not because you’re going to leave some good teams out of the playoffs. I understand the whole equity thing and all that, but you could have a fourth place La Mirada or a fourth place Downey team next year out of the playoffs because we’re in the top side of the power conference and they only allow three playoff teams.”

Gahr, will visit Millikan High on Saturday and Kennedy High on Tuesday before hosting La Habra High and Los Alamitos High on Wednesday and Thursday respectively while La Mirada, which also fell to Esperanza High 3-0 this past Tuesday, hosts Chino Hills High on Tuesday and Cypress High on Thursday.

 

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