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Martinez gaining more confidence, helps Gahr edge Warren


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

As a freshman last season, Gahr High softball pitcher Danielle Martinez was given the surprise start against Warren High on the road in the San Gabriel Valley League opener. She worked just three innings, allowing five hits, three runs while striking out two and walking one batter as the Lady Gladiators fell to the Bears 5-3.

One year later Martinez has built up more confidence to go toe to toe with the toughest competition and it paid off this past Tuesday. Martinez struck out nine and scattered just four hits and freshman third baseman Paloma Usquiano scored on a wild pitch with the bases loaded as Gahr edged Warren 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning. It was just another tough battle between the two-time co-defending league champions, which comes as no surprise to anyone.

“That’s just a tough team and they’re always going to fight,” said Gahr head coach Shawn Quarles. “They’re always going to rise to the occasion. It’s one of those things where we just have to do our best and hopefully we come out on top. I’m glad we kept it close enough to play good enough defense to where we came out in the end.”

Gahr has won two straight one-run affairs at home against the Bears and in the last six meetings, including a La Mirada Tournament game last season, the victor has won by either one or two runs.

Usquiano led off the eighth with a base hit to right field on the first pitch from Nina Garcia. After a four-pitch walk to sophomore designated player Karrington Houshmandzadeh, Garcia hit sophomore shortstop Dejanae Davis to load the bases. Three pitches after that, Garcia threw wildly and Usquiano easily came home to improve Gahr’s mark to 12-4-1 overall and 2-0 in the circuit.

But the majority of the game belonged to Martinez, who picked up her eighth win of the season. After working a perfect top of the first, she gave up an unearned run in the second which tied the game at 1-1. But after Melena Gebur reached on an error which would have gotten Martinez out of danger, she retired 10 straight, striking out five in the process.

“I was just really confident in our ability today,” Martinez said. “I did have a different mindset from last year. It was a lot where I just wanted to come back and prove myself. So I think that was good.

“It was just an error, so in my head, I’m just thinking I have to do what I have to do,” she later added “I have to get my spots. But I just really trust my defense.”

While Martinez was stifling the Warren bats through the first five innings, the Lady Gladiators were maintaining a precarious 2-1 lead with opportunities to add to that. In the first, Davis scored on a two-out, bases loaded walk issued to senior center fielder Alyssa Cuffia. The second ranked team in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III top 10 poll, though, would leave the bases loaded.

Gahr would break the 1-1 tie in the third, again with two outs. Freshman left fielder Jasmine Hill doubled just inside third base and after fouling off three balls with a full count, Cuffia singled to the right field gap to bring in Hill. In her four at-bats in the game, Cuffia saw 22 pitches and reached base three times.

“Cuffia is one of those girls who just wants to fight,” Quarles said. “Even if she’s not on top of her game as far as hitting, she’s going to do everything she can to try and get that ‘W’. There’s no one else I want in a tough situation because she’s going to grind it out and do whatever she can to make that thing happen.”

Unfortunately for Gahr, it couldn’t generate much of an offensive attack after that. The hosts would strand at least one runner on base in every inning and from the second inning to the seventh, were zero for five with runners in scoring position. In the end, Gahr would leave 13 runners on base and out of the seven hits Gahr had, Davis and Hill each had two of them.

“That’s one thing we definitely lacked; was timely hitting,” Quarles said. “We just didn’t get timely hits from some of the players that we depend on for those timely at-bats. We really have to work on that. We really have to work on putting the ball in play, especially when there are runners on base.”

Gahr was nearing a victory until Brooklyn Sepulveda launched a towering home run over the centerfield fence on a 1-2 count with one out in the seventh. Martinez then gave up a single to Jocelyn Hernandez before getting Kailyn Lorberter to groundout on a sacrifice and striking out Gebur. Martinez threw 14 pitches in a perfect eighth, striking out a pair around a flyout to Karly Colenzo.

“It was really a tough situation,” Martinez said. “I was really confident because I had gotten [Sepulveda] the last two at-bats she had. I just gave it up on that one.”

“We’re working on her confidence because she’s young,” Quarles said. “We’re working on things being able to roll off her back a little bit. She kind of held on to giving up that home run a little bit too long. But she plays on a high level travel ball team; she gets in good work. So, just the development over the whole year I think has got her in position to where she can now put on a better competitive front against guys like [Warren].”

This was only the third time in the past 40 meetings with Warren that the game has gone to extra innings and since 1998, Gahr has won nine of the 19 games at home against the Bears. The Lady Gladiators, who had crushed Lynwood High 17-0 the previous day on a combined no-hitter from Martinez and freshman Hannah Kumiyama, visited Paramount High on Apr. 14. Gahr will then host Downey High on Tuesday before travelling to the other side of town to face Cerritos High on Wednesday. Gahr will round out the week with a road game at Dominguez High on Thursday.

“We’re doing well,” Quarles said. “Like I said, I think we can hit better than what we just did. But again, I do think we’re on a roll because we’re winning. I don’t want to be too negative about things. When we win, it’s kind of hard to be negative. I don’t want to mess up that karma.”