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HMG-CN OPINION : CIF championship long overdue for Gahr baseball, softball programs

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

One of the best things about sports is that there will always be upsets. It’s no fun when you look at a bracket from any sport and see the top two teams facing off for a championship every single season.

Upsets are good for the underdogs, the teams or programs who haven’t had much success in the playoffs, or those who are in the playoffs for the first time or just ending double digit years of postseason absence. I mean, how many times have you uttered the phrase, ‘I can’t believe (insert any school or team) beat (insert any school or team)’? But there comes a time when teams or programs that have been consistently good and have been on the verge of playing for a championship simply fall short of those dreams.

That’s where the Gahr High baseball and softball programs come in. Today, the Gahr softball team should have been playing Grand Terrace High in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division III championship game. It would have been a rematch of last season’s semifinal game, a thriller that came down to the final inning. Instead, Grand Terrace will be playing Redondo Union High, the team that stunned Gahr last Thursday in a quarterfinal game.

Gahr was the third ranked team in the division, finished with a 24-6-2 record, won the San Gabriel Valley League outright for the first time since 2008 and went 10-0 in league for the first time since 2007. The Lady Gladiators had a team batting average of .363, the third best since 2005 and had more triples (21) and stolen bases (38) in at least 17 seasons.

For the past three seasons, Gahr has had the right players worthy of a CIF championship patch to be attached to their varsity jackets. But Gahr had the bad luck of drawing No. 2 Righetti High in the second round in 2014 and top-seeded Grand Terrace last season when the Lady Gladiators were ranked fourth.

Those two Gahr teams plus the one that just saw its season end last week has had college material offensive players in Brianna Besenty, Alyssa Cuffia, Dejanae Davis, Celeste Gonzalez, Alyssa Kumiyama, Madison Huskey, Deja Portillo and Malia Quarles, among others, who have either hit .500 or better in a single season or had, or still have, a career batting average of over .350. Those players have been, or are the school’s leader board in most or all offensive categories since 2000.

Add a pitching staff that has seen Deidra Genera, Danielle Martinez and Destiny Vasquez, among others, combine to rack up back to back 24 win seasons and 65 total wins plus a combined 27-2 league mark and it’s very easy to see why there is such sadness and heartbreak in the Gahr dugout. The past two seasons, the staff earned run average has been 1.93 and 2.13 respectively, the lowest since 2006 and 2007. The strikeout total the past two seasons has been 335, the highest since the 2006 and 2007 seasons that rang up 435 batters.

In a way, the past two or three seasons of Gahr softball resembles that of the teams that were put together from 2005-2009. Hot-hitting stars like Roni Alvarado, Eileen Flores, Amanda Marquez, Lindsey Marquez, Nani Mejia, Alyssa Morales, Jasmine Ruiz, Raelean Saldana and Holly Sloan, among others helped Gahr to great success that included back to back quarterfinal exits.

The pitching staff during those five seasons included Alvarado, who is first in seven pitching categories among all Gahr pitchers since 2000, Morales, Alyssa Nava, Brittany Nava and Valerie Rios.

But again, the world of sports is always faced with the better teams not always finishing on top at the very end. The same can go for Gahr’s baseball program, which has been one of the best in the Southern Section, and maybe in Southern California, for quite a long time. It should have been Gahr playing South Hills High on Saturday for a Division II championship. Instead, it will be Redlands East Valley, which stunned the Gladiators 1-0 on May 24 when Gahr was the second ranked team in the division. The Gladiators have played one of the toughest schedules around the past few seasons and what do they have to show for that? The loss to unranked Redlands East Valley, a second round loss to unranked Bonita High last season when Gahr was the No. 9 team, back to back quarterfinal losses and a semifinal loss in 2012 has stopped the Gladiators from playing for a divisional title for the first time since 1994.

Gahr was ranked first in Division II five times this past season and was no worse than fourth in the division. Last season, the Gladiators were as high as second on back to back weeks and were Division III’s top ranked team for seven consecutive weeks in 2014.

This is a baseball program that has always been rich in tradition and has produced a plethora of talented players, some of whom who have made it all the way to a Major League Baseball team. The Gladiators finished this season at 24-7 with three of those losses coming by one run. Gahr went undefeated in league action for the first time in over 19 years and has won at least 21 games the last four seasons. Since head coach Gerardo Perez took over the coaching reigns in 2005, Gahr has averaged a little over 20 victories.

The Gladiators have always been an offensive juggernaut, hitting .387 in 2009, .371 in 2013 and over .350 two other times and smashing out 302 hits in 2009 and 299 in 2005 and

A CIF championships has eluded such great players like George Castillo, Chris Devenski, Joe Dressel, Andrew Encinas, Jaime Estrada, Jacob Faria, Kevin Franklin, Daniel Lack, Kris Medlen, Edgar Morales, Adonis Morrison, Eddie Murray, Joe Park, Michael Perez, Jesus Salazar, George Sanchez, Victor Sanchez and Paul Versteeg, plus many others that when put together, can easily be considered as several all-star teams.

Two of the other three high schools in the city have already experienced the triumph of a baseball or softball championship. Cerritos High won Division II softball championships in 1999 and 2000 and Valley Christian High’s baseball program won divisional titles in 1992, 2001 and 2003. Now it’s time for Gahr to join the party and with the number of returning players that the baseball and softball teams will have next season, it is once again very likely that a new trophy could reside at 11111 Alondra Ave., Cerritos, CA, 90703.