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COMMENTARY : Gahr finally knocks on divisional finals door, but school’s first championship could come soon

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


The Gahr High softball team had been building and building over the past several seasons to get up to Division 1 status of the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section. A hit here or there or an error here or there prevented the school from more trips to the divisional championship game.

But this past season, the Lady Gladiators finally made it to the big show in its first season in Division 1. Gahr began the postseason as the sixth ranked team, received a first-round bye and knocked off Oaks Christian High 4-3, third-ranked Mater Dei High 4-3 in eight innings and seventh-ranked Chino Hills High 1-0 in eight innings before drawing top-ranked Norco High, which also happened to be one of the nation’s best teams.

Head coach Shawn Quarles and his team felt confident in beating Norco for the second time this season. But three runs in the bottom of the first inning and five more the next inning were too much for the Lady Gladiators to overcome in an 8-2 loss. Still this was the season that Quarles was looking for-a chance to play for the school’s first softball championship.

“It feels good,” Quarles said. “It was good for the girls to get the experience. It was good for them to be able to enjoy this. We wished we would have come out on top. But, you can’t always have it. I’m glad the way they lost, in a classy fashion. But we wanted to be on top.”

It’s not like Gahr suddenly became a force to be reckoned with. In six seasons at the helm, Quarles has gone 126-46-2 with five straight San Gabriel Valley League titles. When stepped foot on the Gahr campus, the program was in Division 3. Last season, it moved up to Division 2. His predecessor, Mike Rogers, went 74-87 in six seasons with back to back league crowns and consecutive visits to the quarterfinals. Four different head coaches from 1998-2006 combined to go 148-93-2 with three SGVL league titles, but no trips to the quarterfinals.

Gahr has had one of the strongest softball programs around with eight 20-win seasons since 1998 and one season of 19 victories. But the question will always remain, why did it take this long to play for the big prize? It’s not due to a lack of talent.

Gahr’s pitching staff this past season, led by seniors Vanessa Foreman and Danielle Martinez, plus two others, had an earned run average of 1.39 and the four hurlers combined for 216 strikeouts. The team’s batting wasn’t as good as last season’s, but still effective. Gahr batted .334 and had four players with at least 30 hits.

Last season, the Lady Gladiators batted .424 as a team, had five players hit over .400 and 11 players hit at least one of the team’s 57 home runs. The pitching staff combined to have an earned average of 1.51 and strike out 189 batters. But after 26 straight wins, which currently ranks tied for eighth place in CIF-Southern Section history, Gahr was upended by St. Lucy’s High in the second round of the playoffs. Had the Lady Gladiators gone wire to wire, they would have been holding the second-most consecutive wins for a season, a mark that is currently held by Simi Valley High and only two wins behind Ocean View High.

Gahr has had more than enough talent to win several CIF championships. All you have to do is look at the astonishing numbers by previous members of the Gahr family. Since 2006, 13 players have batted at least .414, led by current University of South Carolina standout Alyssa Kumiyama, who hit .564 in 2017. Not far behind is senior Madison Huskey (.558 in 2017) and Malia Quarles, who is currently at UCLA and batted .545 last season.

But the off the chart numbers are not limited to the players under the current coaching staff. When Rogers oversaw the program, he had players like Roni Alvarado, Brianna Besenty, Eileen Flores, Celeste Gonzalez, Amanda Marquez, Lindsey Marquez, Nani Mejia, Brittney Miller, Alyssa Morales, Deja Portillo and Jasmine Ruiz, among others, doing their thing with the bat. Alvarado was also the main force in the circle from 2005-2008 before the likes of Brittany Nava (2006-2008) and six other pitchers kept the Lady Gladiators in contention of a deep postseason run. Shawn Quarles then took over and had stellar pitching from Naomi Dickerson, Deidra Genera, Hannah Kumiyama, Destiny Vasquez, Foreman and Martinez.

With players like the aforementioned from the past dozen seasons, Gahr should have had some bling on their fingers. But as Shawn Quarles pointed out the past few seasons, you need to be fortunate in the playoffs and have the ball bounce your way.

Gahr didn’t have one of its better offensive teams in 2018; it’s .334 team average was the lowest since 2012 when that team batted .292. But this past season’s pitching was one of the best in school history with the rotation of Foreman and Martinez, who were considered two number one pitchers instead of 1 and 1A. The 1.39 combined ERA was the lowest since 2007 (0.94) and the 216 strikeouts were the most since 2007 when that team combined for 221.

This area has seen two other teams advance to the CIF finals. Cerritos High won Division 2 titles in 1999 and 2000 but has not been back to the semifinals since then. Valley Christian High played for a Division 5 championship in 2006 but has made only two quarterfinal visits since then and has not won 20 games since winning 21 in 2006.

It’s not easy going all the way to the divisional finals, let alone win one. But if Gahr keeps on getting the talent like it has been getting for the past 12 seasons, it’s only a matter of time before the school is hoisting a championship plaque and getting championship patches instead of taking home a runner-up plaque.