_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES _______________________


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY LEAGUE SOFTBALL Vasquez holds off Warren in Gahr debut, Gladiators remain in first place

 By Loren Kopff

 The last time Destiny Vasquez pitched in a meaningful high school softball game, her then-Norwalk Lady Lancers had been blown out of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division II playoffs. That was May 14, 2013 in an 11-0 wild card loss to Oaks Christian in which Norwalk was held hitless.

This past Tuesday, Vasquez made her Gahr debut after sitting out due to CIF-SS transfer rules and after a shaky start, she became the newest Gladiator to provide late inning dramatics. The junior second baseman and pitcher went two for four and drove in a pair of runs, including the eventual game-winner as host Gahr rallied to defeat Warren 6-5 in a key first round San Gabriel Valley League contest.

Vasquez also pitched the final three innings, yielding four hits and three runs, one of which was earned. She struck out two and threw 45 pitches as she picked up her first win since May 7, 2013. Last season, Vasquez had an earned run average of 2.64 and struck out 83 in just over 74 innings of work for Norwalk.

“I was excited to come back,” Vasquez said. “I was stoked. I’m glad I could finally help my team.”

Warren jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the third as Alyssa Hanks smacked a first-pitch, two-run home run off of junior Deidra Genera. Gahr would get one of those runs back in its half of the frame when junior first baseman Celeste Gonzalez singled in junior third baseman Sabrina Quarles.

That came with the bases loaded as longtime Warren head coach Mary Starksen opted to walk both freshman third baseman Malia Quarles and freshman catcher Alyssa Kumiyama for the second time within the first three innings. Quarles and Kumiyama are the third and fourth hitters in Gahr’s lineup followed by Gonzalez and Vasquez, who batted .516 last season at Norwalk. The No. 3-5 hitters are all batting over .470 as part as Gahr’s ‘pick your poison’ lineup.

Still, Warren pitcher Courtney Sheldon was dodging one bullet after another as the Gladiators stranded seven base runners through the first three innings.

“I think we were getting to that pitcher and we were leaving runners on base,” said Gahr head coach Shawn Quarles. “To me, when that that happens, especially with this team, it’s just a matter of time until something gets through. That’s just how the game works.”

In the bottom of the fifth and Warren up 3-1, Starksen decided to have Sheldon pitch to Malia Quarles, who hit a line drive to third base for an out. But two pitches later, Kumiyama singled to right and scored when Vasquez singled to center. That was followed by a two-run double from sophomore center fielder Alyssa Cuffia.

“I was kind of surprised but she’s a good coach and I knew they did their homework,” Shawn Quarles said of walking two of his top hitters. “I think it was a smart move and I think it paid off. When she did pitch to them, she almost lost a third baseman and Kumi got two hits that went to the fence.”

In the sixth inning with one out, Kumiyama and Gonzalez had base hits before Vasquez brought home Kumiyama to make the score 6-3. It was a key hit as the Bears would rally for two runs in the top of the seventh.

“I knew [Sheldon] was going to come in on me,” Vasquez said. “My dad kept on telling me to hit it up the middle.”

When Vasquez replaced Genera to begin the fifth, she surrendered a one-out hit to Hanks, then walked Ashley Machado. Two batters later, Hanks scored on a base hit from Neddie Gutierrez. But Vasquez retired the six of the next seven batters she faced.

“I wanted to make sure that we kind of eased her into it and I thought she did good,” Shawn Quarles said of Vasquez. “I thought Deidra did a heck of a job. There was just one pitch she left up and those were the two runs. But other than that, I think our pitching did well. It’s really good to be able to have two pitchers like that, to be able to rotate them and keep them strong and healthy.”

“I had confidence in my team,” Vasquez said. “I wasn’t nervous at all. I’m not going to give up on my team because I know they’re not going to give up on me.”

Gahr (10-8 overall, 3-0) snapped a 10-game losing to streak to Warren and won for the second time against a team with a winning record this season. The Gladiators visited Paramount on Apr. 10 and will close out the first round of league action on Thursday at Dominguez. After that, Gahr will be on a two week hiatus before visiting Warren on May 1.

“We are on a mission,” Shawn Quarles said. “We really wanted to win that Whittier Christian game [on Mar. 27]. I think at that point, the girls kind of got on the same page and really banded together. I think we wanted to take things a little bit more seriously and finish out the season strong.”