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Gahr High Captures Another San Gabriel Valley League Baseball Championship

2019 San Gabriel Valley League Champions Gahr Gladiators. Photo by Loren Kopff.




By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

PARAMOUNT-When the San Gabriel Valley League baseball season began on Mar. 19, Gahr High was nipped by Paramount High 7-6 as the Pirates scored twice in the top of the seventh inning. The Gladiators dropped to 1-12 at the time but now, they are league champions all by themselves, the fifth straight season they have been on top of the league.

Gahr benefited from an erratic Jonathan Largaespada, who threw six wild pitches and hit five batters in the first three innings and went on to win 6-3 last Friday. The Gladiators entered the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs 13-15-1 overall, 8-2 in the circuit. It’s the first time since 2008 that Gahr has entered the playoffs with a losing mark. Still, the program has won 14 league championships in the past 22 seasons.

“I think it’s a credit to our seniors,” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “There is a history here, a tradition. They do believe in the four letters in the front [of the uniform]. It hasn’t been easy. It doesn’t come with the maturity of some sophomores and some unselfishness of some seniors.”

“I’m just proud of all these guys,” said senior shortstop Edward Morales. “I think without them, we wouldn’t be where we’re at today. I thank all the seniors for their hard work and the young guys for coming out and being leaders as well. It’s all about the team right now and it’s a great win.”

By virtue of a better record in the second round over Warren High, and other tiebreakers won, the Gladiators knew before the game that they would go in as the first place representatives from the league. The only thing left to be determined was would Gahr win the league outright, or be one of four teams ties with 7-3 league records?

On the first pitch of the game, sophomore third baseman Matthew Polk tripled to the left field gap and came home on a wild pitch when Largaespada had a full count on sophomore catcher Jorge Renteria. On the next pitch, sophomore second baseman Matt Kurata, who had been hit by a pitch, moved from second to home on the second wild pitch of the inning. Two batters later, Morales was hit by a pitch and stole second with Renteria coming home to complete the double steal.

After loading the bases in the next inning but not getting anything out of it, Gahr went up 5-0 in the top of the third inning as Morales and senior right fielder Joey Lopez each singled and scored on an error and a wild pitch respectively. Again, the Gladiators left the bases loaded, but the lead was enough for junior Kevin Quiroz, who worked three innings.

“Getting [up] early in the game helped out our pitcher,” Morales said. “We wanted to give him less stress, so, we just wanted him to throw strikes and believe in us that we were going to get some runs for him. I’m glad we did that early.”

“There’s was no question that we’ve kind of had a really good string of games where in the first inning, we’ve done a really good job of getting that pitcher…call it a stress inning where a runner gets on second base and they have to throw 20 pitches or so,” Perez said. “Because, our guys kind of believe that if they do that in the first inning, by the time the third inning rolls around, they’re going to have to go to the bullpen pretty soon.”

After the Pirates scored twice in the bottom of the third inning, the visitors added their last tally in the fourth when Morales doubled to left with one out and touch home plate on a two-out double from senior designated hitter Michael Stephens.

Quiroz, who gave up back to back singles in the third for his only two hits allowed, was replaced in the fourth by senior Anthony Gonzalez. He worked the final four innings, giving up just one hit, walking a pair of batters and striking out one while picking up his second win of the season.

Gahr picked up half a dozen hits, the fewest in 10 league games this season. The 2019 campaign will go down as one of the most challenging, but remarkable seasons in Gahr history. The Gladiators, with little to no margin for error just to get back in the playoff picture, won 12 of its last 16 games and played

Morales said that this was the best of his league titles because it came in his senior season. He cites the cohesiveness of the team during its late season surge as to the turnaround.

“I think the leadership stepped up as a team throughout every player pretty much and everybody came together,” Morales said. “We all believed on each other. We started off pretty slow, but everybody came together, we all believed in each other and it was a great season.

“I think leadership was going on my mind throughout the whole time,” he later said. “I know I needed to get the young guys to step up a little bit and lead them to getting better every day because little by little, I think as a team, we all gather each other up.”

As always, Perez put together a brutal non-league schedule to prepare his players for the playoffs. The Gladiators went 2-8-1 against Southern Section Division 1 teams and 2-5 against Division 2 teams. They did defeat Birmingham High of the Los Angeles City Section in the first game of the National Classic Tournament and the other five league teams are situated in Divisions 3-6. Gahr travelled to Palm Desert High on May 2 in a Division 1 first round game. The Aztecs were co-champions of the Desert Empire League and had a regular season record of 17-11. The two teams met on Feb. 18 in pool play action of the Newport Elks Tournament and Gahr lost 7-2.

“It was a journey that we weren’t quite ready for,” Perez said. “it turned out to be a great ride, but at the start, we kind of got lost. We took a wrong turn here and there before we found our way, and I couldn’t be more excited about our kids winning another league championship.”