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MICHELLE CAREW CLASSIC – Gahr’s explosive hitting stymied by trio of Los Alamitos pitchers in third place game


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


ANAHEIM-For the second time this season, the Gahr High softball team was hoping to call themselves third place winners in a major tournament. But déjà vu hit the Lady Gladiators once again and they couldn’t recover from their own pitching issues, falling to Los Alamitos High 6-2 last Saturday night at the 33rdannual Michelle Carew Classic, formerly called the Invitational Varsity Tournament, hosted by Canyon High.

Gahr was limited with its young pitching staff as sophomore Ashley Benavides got her seventh start of the season but did not make it out of the third inning. Junior Malia Luna, normally a catcher, replaced Benavides with one out in the top of the third inning but had control issues, hitting half a dozen hitters of the 22 she faced.

“It’s one of those things where I had to make a decision pitching-wise,” said Gahr first-year head coach Rey Sanchez. “Do I go after this third place win in a tournament or set my pitching up to continually do well in league? So, I had to make a decision in this game and not go with my horse. But I’m looking at league and league at this point is going to be a little bit more important.”

Gahr was put in the position to play for third place after losing a 3-0 lead after two innings to Orange Lutheran High earlier in the day in one semifinal contest. Gahr would see the Lancers score five unanswered runs in the fourth and fifth innings. On Mar. 16, the Lady Gladiators lost the last two games of the Torrance National Tournament to end up in fourth place in that event.

“Playing two games in a day with a two-game break is hard to get ramped up,” Sanchez said. “But the girls seemed to be in pretty good spirits. We didn’t throw strikes like we needed to. That was the bottom line. We hit too many girls; too many freebies.”

Los Alamitos got the early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Benavides, pitching with a blister on her finger, walked Samantha Denehy, who stole a pair of bases before coming home on a groundout from Emma Sellers. But Gahr answered back in its half of the frame when Tyler Denhart walked senior third baseman Jazmine Hill with two outs and surrendered a base hit to sophomore shortstop Taylor Stephens.

After a scoreless second inning, the Griffins, ranked third in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 poll, scored twice on a pair of hits, a pair of walks and a pair of batters reaching on a fielder’s choice. Los Alamitos would load the bases three different times but managed just the two runs. In fact, the score may have been worse for Gahr as the Griffins stranded 11 batters in the six-inning game, including the bases loaded twice.

Gahr got to within a run in the bottom of the fourth inning when senior designated player Shasiel Fregoso reached on an error and senior courtesy runner Ashley Samano scored when senior right fielder Irene Dorado was safe on another error. But after that, a pair of Los Alamitos pitchers combined to retire eight of the last nine batters they faced.

Gahr was held to a season-low three hits, however junior center fielder Sydni Jones had an opportunity to double that total. Jones was robbed of a base hit by Carly Limosnero leading off the bottom of the second and fourth innings and saw Denehy take away a potential single in the bottom of the sixth inning when she dove forward to make a spectacular catch. Jones had led off that inning as well.

“That’s unfortunate,” Sanchez said. “This game is one of those games where sometimes you hit the ball right on the screws and it’s at girls. Then sometimes you get a cap shot here and a jam shot here and all of a sudden, you’re three for three and you haven’t even hit a ball hard. This game will even out. But she is probably swinging, of all the girls, the hottest bat right now.

“Their girls made pitches when they needed to and we weren’t as selective as we needed to be in those situations,” he later said. “Anytime you’re trying to get pressure hits, you’ve got to be selective and get the pitch you can drive and take it to the right part of the field.”

Gahr (14-4 overall, 5-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League) began the week with a 7-3 win at Warren High on Apr. 2, then jumped into tournament with the first of two pool play games. The Lady Gladiators are in the middle of stretch where they will play 11 games in 11 days, not including this past Sunday when high school athletes cannot participate in any event. Gahr travelled to Downey High this past Tuesday and knocked off the Vikings 11-1 and hosted Paramount High the next day, coming away with a 12-2 victory. On Apr. 11, the defending league champions went to Dominguez High and will visit Chino Hills High today in a doubleheader. The meeting with the Huskies will be a rematch of last season’s Division 1 semifinal contest, won by Gahr 1-0 in eight innings.

“It’s not easy; it’s almost like a Major League Baseball schedule,” Sanchez said. “Not even colleges do that. We have been playing quite a bit. This is a tough little run; a tough little stretch for us. It’s going to challenge our pitching and put some pressure on our pitching for sure.”

The loss to Los Alamitos marked the third loss in five games to Division 1 opponents from the Southern Section, having previously fallen to Grand Terrance High 3-1 in addition to the two games last Saturday. However, despite Gahr’s strong non-league slate, they are not among the top 10 in the division.

“The polls that matter to be are going to be at the end of the [season],” Sanchez said. “Rankings are nice; it kind of gives you a guide of where people are. When you play in tournaments like this, it gives you an idea of where you stand, and that’s why I like playing in tournaments like this.

“I like where we’re at,” he continued. “I told our girls we have a great chance of making a deep run [in the playoffs] again. I really, honestly believe that. So, I want them to have that mindset and I want them to visualize that.”

The Lady Gladiators will also travel to Lynwood High on Tuesday and host Warren on Thursday.