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CIF-SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION 1 SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP : Two big hits spell doom for Gahr against one of nation’s best in title game

Gahr High junior left fielder Jazmine Hill patiently waits for a pitch to come her way in last Saturday night’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 1 championship game against Norco High. Hill went one for two, scored a run and drove in a run as the Lady Gladiators fell to the Cougars 8-2.
PHOTOS BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer


Norco High’s Blanca Gonzalez scores the first of five runs of the top of the second inning and fourth of the game as the Cougars defeated Gahr High 8-2 in last Saturday night’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division 1 championship game.

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


IRVINE-Having been denied a chance to play for a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section divisional softball championship the past three seasons because of playoff misfortunes, Gahr High finally made it to the big stage last Saturday night. Playing top-ranked Norco High in the Division 1 finals, the Lady Gladiators knew they would have to play their best ball of the season.

Two groundball outs within the first seven pitches thrown by senior Vanessa Foreman was the start Gahr needed. But after that, it went downhill and the Cougars, highly ranked in the state according to MaxPreps and one of the nation’s toughest teams, exploded for three runs in the top of the first and five more the next inning to knock off the San Gabriel Valley League co-champions 8-2 in front of a packed house at Deanna Manning Stadium at Colonel Bill Barber Park.

Gahr had previously defeated Norco in 2015, a 4-3 conquest at the Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, AZ, and 6-4 on Apr. 6 of this season in the Michelle Carew Classic. But two hits would tell the story of this game.

After those two outs in the opening frame, Foreman walked Mikayla Allee, gave up a single to Kinzie Hanson and walked Paige Smith before serving up a first-pitch, bases-clearing double to Sierra Marshall for the first big hit.

“Sometimes the tide just goes the other way,” said Gahr head coach Shawn Quarles. “I really haven’t processed it all. I know she hit [Allee] and sometimes that’s just what triggers it. They’re a tough-hitting team and sometimes if they get the momentum, stuff like that happens.”

In the next inning, Blanca Gonzalez reached on an infield single and scored on a one-out base hit from Toni Camarillo. That would be followed by an infield knock from Allee and a fielder’s choice from Hanson before Smith cracked a fly ball on a full count that deflected off the glove of junior left fielder Jazmine Hill’s glove and over the fence for a grand slam.

“Different day and on any given day, these teams can beat each other,” Quarles said. “This is the third time we’ve played Norco and we beat them twice. But that’s the problem. With a program like that, you’re going to exchange with them.”

After that, Norco would collect just a Hanson single in the fifth inning off senior Danielle Martinez, who had replaced Foreman following Allee’s single. Martinez retired 13 of the 14 batters she faced. But the damage was done as the Lady Gladiators had given up the second most runs this season and had their biggest deficit of the season.

Meanwhile, the Gahr hitters were stymied by the pitching of Sarah Willis and the Cougar defense. Willis gave up just three hits and struck out six. In the bottom of the first inning and with two outs, a high chopper from senior center fielder Madison Huskey was snagged by first baseman Katelyn Olson to end the inning. When Gahr came up again, Willis walked Hill but two pitches later, freshman third baseman Taylor Stephens line out to Willis, who then threw to Olson to complete the double play. After Willis hit senior first baseman Jade Wittman, sophomore designated player Johanna Rodriguez grounded out to Willis.

In fact, Willis would have a hand in 12 of the 21 outs as she assisted on two more groundouts and snared a line drive hit by Wittman in the sixth inning with Stephens on first and two outs. But the Lady Gladiators would finally get to Willis in the fourth.

With one out, Hill singled to left and came home when Stephens doubled to the centerfield wall. She advanced on the throw home and scored the last run of the game on a wild pitch. The only other hit Gahr got came when freshman catcher Grace Rivera led off the third with a single to the right field gap.

“We definitely didn’t want to go out of here with a shutout,” Quarles said. “We did everything we could to get some runs.”

The fact that Gahr was down 8-0, let alone 3-0 after the first inning was somewhat of unchartered territory for the Lady Gladiators this season. Only three other times did they trail by at least two runs in the early innings. In the fourth game of the season, Gahr trailed Santa Fe High 2-0 after the second inning and lost 2-1. Against Norco, a 3-0 deficit after four innings turned into a 6-4 win and in the second round of the playoffs, Gahr trailed Oaks Christian High 2-0 after four and a half innings and rallied for a 4-3 victory.

“We just wanted to fight back,” Quarles said. “These girls have a lot of fight in them and they’ve never given up all year. So, we told them it’s just a matter of how you end the season. I knew they weren’t going to give up. They kept fighting until the end and I’m glad we ended the season in good spirits.”

This was the second time a Gahr softball team had advanced to a divisional championship game. In 1989, the Lady Gladiators fell to St. Joseph High and Lisa Fernandez 1-0 in the 5-A title game. Overall, the Gahr softball program has made seven trips to the quarterfinals and three semifinal appearances. In 2015, an unearned run by Grand Terrace High in the top of the seventh proved to be the deciding factor in a 4-3 contest in the semifinals. The next season, against Redondo Union High in the quarterfinals, Gahr was three outs away from moving on. But a four-run, top of the seventh inning turned into a 5-4 loss for the Lady Gladiators.

And finally, Gahr was primed to go wire to wire and potentially finish the season undefeated. But four runs in the bottom of the first and second innings by St. Lucy’s High in the second round spoiled that attempt in a 10-4 loss.

“This is a team of fighters and it’s just a great group,” Quarles said. “A lot of these girls I’ve had since they’re freshmen year. So, it’s touching. It’s sad to see a lot of them leave. It is what it is.”