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SAN GABRIEL VALLEY LEAGUE BASEBALL~ Andrunas gives Gahr a great start to its league opener in pitching duel against Downey

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

With everything the Gahr High baseball team has had to deal with this season, most notably the injuries and one of the toughest non-league schedules in the CIF-Southern Section, it was gratifying to see the Gladiators begin San Gabriel Valley League action with its best pitching performance thus far. Junior pitcher Noah Andrunas was the jump start the team needed and did something no other Gahr pitcher had done through the first 18 games of the season.

Andrunas pitched a complete game against visiting Downey High this past Monday, scattering three hits, striking out six and walking one as the Gladiators edged the Vikings 2-1. In fact, both Andrunas and his counterpart, Jorge Amador, each allowed three hits.

“When it comes down to giving us innings and giving us quality pitches, he does a great job,” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “Today he did it with his off-speed stuff, and then late in the game he found his fastball. He kind of went backwards. Usually it’s fastball dominant early, and then start mixing it in. I’m really proud of his effort.”

After allowing a one-out walk in the first inning, Andrunas yielded the only Downey run in the next inning. On the first pitch of the second, he gave up a single to Eduardo Diaz before Aaron Torres reached on an error. Two batters later, he gave up a single to Alonso Gomez to load the bases where a groundout from Andrew Llames plated Diaz.

Andrunas then hit Jair Quiroz to load the bases again before getting Leo Tranquilino to groundout. After that, Andrunas turned it up, retiring the next nine batters.

“The first two innings was a little rough; the fastball control was a little bit off,” said Andrunas. “I threw a lot more pitches than I wanted to. But something clicked in the third inning when I went out there and I was able to be more focused. I dialed it in with my fastball and my changeup and was able to get the job done.”

“He did a great job of navigating that inning,” said Perez. “He’s been a victim of some pretty tough losses.”

After Amador worked a perfect inning, he ran into trouble in the bottom of the second inning. He walked junior first baseman Alahni Salcedo and gave up a single to junior shortstop Angel Cortez. Following a sacrifice from senior third baseman Joe Tamassi-Ortiz, senior right fielder Andrew Kirchner laced a base hit to the right field gap to bring home Salcedo and Cortez.

With the way Andrunas was pitching, that was all Gahr needed as it would get four runners on base the rest of the game on two walks, an infield single from sophomore designated hitter Jose Perez and a hit batter.

“He seems to do a better job with people on base and with two strikes and all that stuff,” said Perez of Kirchner. “He came up clutch last year and he’s come up clutch [this year]. So, I kind of like him in that spot for us. He breaks up the monotony of all the right-handed guys. He does well; he does well for us.”

Meanwhile, Andrunas was just chugging along, throwing nine pitches in the third, 13 in the fourth and six in the fifth. However, Downey threatened to at least tie the game in the sixth inning when Kevin Ramirez reached on an error and advanced on a single from Adrian Aviles. But Diaz grounded into a double play with Aviles out at home and a fielder’s choice from Torres ended the inning. Andrunas then worked a perfect 11-pitch seventh inning. He said he felt pretty good after six innings and had a lot of adrenaline which gave him all the motivation he needed to complete the game.

“To a certain point, yes,” said Andrunas. “But I think what really gave me the motivation was my team being able to come back and score two in the bottom half of that inning. So that really helped me pick it up and get the job done.”

“Jorge did a great job; he pitched to contact,” said Perez of Downey’s hurler. “We did hit some balls pretty well; we did hit some balls pretty hard. But they were at them. We did execute some good bunts, they made some plays and they did a good job. They were ready.”

The game with the Vikings was the first of 10 games in the final three weeks of the regular season. This past Wednesday, seniors Christien Banda and Steven Thompson Jr. combined to no-hit the Vikings 2-1 this past Wednesday as the Gladiators improved to 7-13 overallon the season. Gahr scored twice in the first inning while Banda worked the first five innings, striking out 10 batters and walking two. Downey’s lone run came in the sixth when Matthew Garcia reached on a walk, advanced on a passed ball and scored on a groundout.

Gahr will visit Lynwood High today before hosting Warren High on Tuesday in the front end of a home and home series. The second game will be on Thursday. Gahr will follow that up with a visit to Lynwood on Apr. 22 and to Paramount High on Apr. 25, before hosting Martin Luther King High, Paramount and La Mirada High from Apr. 26-28.

“We might be in a better situation to handle it now,” said Perez. “We started the year, and it was a grind. It was really tough, especially with all the injuries early and the speed bumps early. The one thing is these guys are not shying away from any tight game or inning. They’ve already been through it.

“I think it’s huge,” he later said of beginning league play with a win. “We just haven’t had a great start to the year record-wise. We came up just short in a few games. These games, pretty much the rest of the way, are must-win games for us.”

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