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Artesia High sweeps season series from Cerritos High, stays in hunt for playoffs


By Loren Kopff

When you’ve missed the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs for five straight seasons and combined to win 31 games during that time, you begin to feel the urge to break out of those slumps. But if you’re Michael Gaoghagan, you don’t show too much emotion after a victory.

Following Artesia’s 10-5 win over visiting Cerritos last Friday, the 11-year head coach kept everything low key despite seeing his team improve to 7-11 overall and 3-3 in the Suburban League. The Pioneers ended last week in fourth place, one full game ahead of John Glenn for the final automatic playoff spot. But the playoffs are the farthest thing on Gaoghagan’s mind right now.

“It’s only halfway through league, so, we’re just going to worry about La Mirada next week and see what happens,” Gaoghagan said. “In league, I think we’re doing pretty well. We had two tough ones against Mayfair. But we bounced back. As long as we play pretty good defense and [if] our pitching is there, I think we’ll be okay.”

Had Artesia not blown leads of three runs and one run to Mayfair in late March, it might have been much closer to first place. Still, the Pioneers will enjoy their eighth sweep over Cerritos since 2000 and second in the past three seasons.

The Dons (3-16, 0-8) grabbed a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the third on run-scoring singles from senior second baseman Omar Rodriguez in the second inning and senior designated hitter Nick Lee in the third. But the Pioneers scored five times in the bottom of the third and didn’t let up.

Cerritos junior pitcher Eugene Chang walked senior left fielder Jerry Azzato to lead off the bottom half of the frame. Sophomore shortstop Matt Munoz singled and senior second baseman Joseph Herrera reached on an error allowing Azzato to come home. Senior pitcher Tommy Corrales then helped himself out with a two-run double to the left field gap to tie the game. He would later score on a base hit from sophomore third baseman Joseph Vasquez.

After the Pioneers batted around in the inning, Azzato led off the fourth with a single to right and Chang walked Munoz. Azzato would make it 6-3 on one of Cerritos’ seven errors and Vasquez later plated Munoz with the second of his three hits.

That would be more than enough support for Corrales, who settled down in the middle innings and ended the game pitching into the sixth, scattering seven hits and striking out seven. It was his first start since going the distance against Santa Ana on Apr. 3 in a 3-0 win.

“He probably wasn’t as sharp with his breaking pitches as he usually is,” Gaoghagan said. “But he’s a battler and he did a great job at the plate. He’s definitely one of our leaders.”

The Pioneers added two more runs in the fifth as a fielder’s choice from Munoz allowed sophomore catcher Marcus Johnson to score and senior second baseman Julian Mendoza came home on an error. In the next inning, Vasquez scored on a base hit from Johnson. Eight of the nine Artesia starters had at least one hit as the team reached double digits in hits (11) for the fifth time this season.

Cerritos senior catcher J.T. Mars went three for four and scored three times while Lee went two for four and drove in two as Cerritos visits league-leading Mayfair today before hosting Norwalk on Wednesday in its last home league contest of the season. When the Pioneers get done with La Mirada, they will visit John Glenn on Wednesday in a crucial game for the final playoff spot.

“I’ve done this a long time,” Gaoghagan said. “If you go 3-3 and you start looking too far ahead, you’ll end up going 3-9. We’ve done that before, where we’ve had to win one game in four tries and we went 0-4. We just have to worry about the play in front of us.”