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SAN GABRIEL VALLEY LEAGUE BASEBALL : Dressel staked to early lead as Gahr doubles up Downey to remain on late-season rol

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


As the regular season comes to an end, the Gahr High baseball team knew there was little margin of error when it came to securing one of the top three automatic playoff berths from the San Gabriel Valley League. Afterall, the Gladiators, who have yet to reach the .500 mark this season, are on a frantic wave of momentum, hoping to get in the top three and possibly win another league championship.

Senior left-handed pitcher Jason Dressel was just what the doctor ordered, pitching six solid innings and yielding half a dozen hits as host Gahr defeated Downey High 8-4 last Thursday to improve to 11-13-1 overall, 6-1 in league play at the time. The Gladiators have won 10 of their last 12 games with a tie mixed into that equation. The winning streak began with a win against St. John Bosco High in the front end of a doubleheader on Mar. 25 and during this late season streak, Gahr has given up 32 runs. In the first 13 games, it had allowed 80 runs.

“I think it’s just a direct result of…long story short, [Jason] works harder than anybody else day in and day out and he cares more about the four letters in front than the name on the back,” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “He doesn’t have a humongous ego. He’s a good team guy. When you start to check off the boxes as far as what he represents, there are a lot of boxes that you check on top of being a very good left-handed pitcher.”

“I felt good coming out,” Dressel said. “I had a lot of confidence in game plans with Perez and my [sophomore] catcher Jorge [Renteria]. I knew I was well-prepared coming in. I ran into some trouble, but my biggest thing was keeping my composure and taking deep breaths and [going] one pitch at a time. I felt like I did a good job.”

After a scoreless first inning by both teams, the Gladiators went to work against Downey’s Sebastian Diaz in the bottom of the second, loading the bases on the first three batters on a total of nine pitches seen. With one out, senior pinch hitter Joey Lopez singled in a pair of runs. Two pitches later, senior designated hitter Andrew Householder scored on a groundout from junior pinch hitter Daniel Castellanos. Moments later junior first baseman Brian Munoz doubled to left to plate Lopez.

“We’ve been doing a pretty good job of kind of substituting people at the right time,” Perez said. “Joey Lopez came through for us with a hit again. We had Castellanos, a call-up which seems to be par for the course this year, come up with another RBI. We had Brian Munoz, who has been consistently getting better, a sophomore with good at-bats. We had [senior] Matt Prudhomme pinch run for Jorge steal a base and then ended up scoring.”

The four runs seemed to be all Dressel needed despite giving up three runs in the top of the fourth inning. In fact, in the top of the second inning, Jesus Liera led off with a double, went to third on the next pitch and was stranded there. After striking out four straight batters, Dressel gave up a pair of infield hits and another solid single to right within the first four batters. The second of those infield hits glanced off his glove, allowing Dominic Gallardo to ruin the shutout bid. Still, the Vikings left two more batters on base.

“I pitched a lot of contact and got outs, but it did kind of start from a play that I could have made” Dressel said. “I think that’s what led to the inning that gave them [chances].”

Gahr would add insurance runs in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings beginning with Diaz walking Lopez to lead off the fourth and being replaced with sophomore pinch runner Demetrius Massey. Freshman centerfielder Ethan Kang then singled to left with Massey going to third and one pitch later, a sacrifice fly from Munoz made it 5-3. Later in the inning, Kang would score on an error. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Renteria, senior left fielder Matt Estrada and Householder all singled to left. Then senior shortstop Edward Morales laid down a bunt to pitcher Omar Serrano, but Estrada barely beat the throw home.

Both teams had eight hits apiece with Estrada and Householder each collecting two hits. The recent surge can be attributed to the change in team chemistry, especially between the seniors and the underclassmen.

“I think it’s a little bit of everything,” Perez said. “I think it starts with a good group of seniors. You have to be a little unselfish to welcome the help of some of the young guys that have stepped up. Together we’re pretty good; individually we’re not as complete. So, I thought during the Bosco games, I thought their backs were up against the wall.

“We always talk about making a stew and kind of simmering,” he later said. “By the end of year, you kind of want that stew to be pretty close. Sometimes you have to take some ingredients out.”

“Chemistry,” Dressel said. “I think we’ve come together as a team. We weren’t as bonded as we are right now, and I think it does show a lot in our dugout and in our culture. We play for one another and that’s how we’re winning.”

Gahr began this past week tied for first place in the league with Paramount High and a half game ahead of Warren High. The Gladiators would fall to Warren 7-6 this past Monday but rebound two days later with an emphatic 13-1 victory over Bears. Dressel went the distance for the second time this season, scattering five hits. The Gladiators improved to 12-14-1, 7-2 and visited Paramount on Apr. 25 to not only avenge a 7-6 loss to the Pirates on Mar. 19 but clinch another league crown. However, a loss to Paramount would force a four-way tie for first place.