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NEWPORT ELKS TOURNAMENT One big inning stops Gahr’s four-game winning streak

 By Loren Kopff

 ANAHEIM-The most used phrase that Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez will say to followers of one of the most successful baseball programs in Southern California this season is to be patient. The Gladiators have even more of a brutal non-league schedule but the team doesn’t have quite the offensive punch of a year ago.

Still, the Gladiators, for the most part, held their own against host Esperanza last Friday afternoon in the championship game of the Lerner pool of the Newport Elks Tournament. But the Aztecs scored four runs in the bottom of the second inning and held off a late Gahr rally in a 5-3 win. It was the first loss in five games for Gahr.

“I thought early in the game, defensively, we had a couple of mishaps,” Perez said. “We had a fly ball that might have led to a couple of runs. We didn’t hit the cutoff man which led them to having two runs. From a defensive standpoint, that’s real untypical. We kind of gave them that jump, but I do feel our kids fought back and were resilient. I’ll take that any day of the week. That’s who we are.”

Gahr seemed to have some momentum early in the game when junior left fielder made a nifty diving catch in foul ground for the first out in the bottom of the first. But Esperanza got to Gahr junior lefty Paul Versteeg in the bottom of the second. The Aztecs collected five straight hits and scored four runs in the frame,

But the Gladiators came back in the next inning when senior pinch hitter Eric Cummings and sophomore third baseman Jesus Salazar led off with a double and single respectively. Both would come home on a sacrifice fly from senior shortstop Jaime Estrada and a base hit from junior center fielder Albert Avila.

But over the next four innings, Gahr would be held to two hits as senior Octavio Lara was keeping his team in the game by limiting Esperanza to three hits over the last three innings of the game.

“I thought Octavio did a great job coming in and keeping them at bay,” Perez said. “He was dominant, which he can be.”

Gahr got closer in the top of the sixth when sophomore catcher David Balboa reached on an error and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly from sophomore pinch hitter Victor Salazar. That came after junior second baseman Joe Dressel sacrificed Balboa to third.

“It was a good inning for us,” Perez said. “We do have that kind of pressure style offense; getting on base and stealing bases. I thought we did a good job from a base running aspect. That’s real typical of what we’re going to be.”

However, a costly error in the bottom of the sixth allowed Griffin Barnes to score an insurance run for Esperanza. Junior designated hitter Jorge Rivas went two for two as Gahr was hoping to open the season with five straight wins for the first time in over 17 seasons, if that. Gahr opened the 2005 season, Perez’ first, at 4-0 before falling in the fifth game.

“I think in order to [go 5-0], you’ve got to have a tremendous amount of good pitching,” Perez said. “It’s changed a little bit, obviously. We were in the El Segundo Tournament when I first got here.

“I felt we were growing a little bit in certain areas and we want to challenge ourselves a little bit with some teams that had Division I players moving on,” he continued. “I thought if our kids want to have the opportunity to compete and move on, it would be in their best interest if we come out here and play in these games. So it’s going to be difficult to go 5-0.”

Gahr, which began the season as the seventh ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III coaches poll, moved up to the top spot this past Monday. Then the team edged St. Paul 4-3 this past Wednesday. The Gladiators will face Cathedral on Saturday in the first round of the Redondo Tournament before meeting former No. 1 and current No. 3 Serra on Tuesday.

“We are a work in process,” Perez said. “The bottom line is they care. They are going to continue to try to get better and I think two months from now…we only have one way to go, and that’s up.”