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BASEBALL – La Mirada’s Dominguez outduels Gahr’s Banda in preview of future league rivals  


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

The last time Gahr High and La Mirada High met on the diamond in a regular season or CIF-Southern Section playoff game, Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez was in his second season coaching the Gladiators. That came in 2006 and following a 6-0 win over the Matadores in the quarterfinals, Gahr would fall in the Division III semifinals.

If last Friday’s trailer between two of the powerhouse baseball programs in Southern California was any sign on how next season’s movie is going to be, then stay tuned for the sequels. The best that the San Gabriel Valley League and Suburban League had to offer over the past two decades or so, respectively, will be a part of a new conference next season and will face each other three times in what could decide first place.

But for now, a solid performance from La Mirada freshman Paul Dominguez paved the way for a 2-0 victory as the regular season ended. La Mirada, ranked seventh in Division 1 and champions of the Suburban League one last time, will host Thousand Oaks High today in the first round. Dominguez went the distance, throwing 98 pitches and striking out six.

“We did this game to get ready for the playoffs,” said La Mirada head coach Jimmy Zurn. “That’s a playoff-type game where hits are at a premium; runs are at a premium. Every pitch is so crucial and for us, this was a good type of win going into the playoffs.”

Not to be outdone was Gahr senior pitcher Cristien Banda, who went five innings, yielded two hits and one unearned run. And if you were looking for an offensive game, you were at the wrong place. Both teams had three hits, three pitchers combined to walk nine batters, the defenses combined to turn four double plays and a pair of La Mirada runners were caught stealing.

“The walks surprised me maybe a little bit,’ said Perez. “But I knew it was going to be, based on what the plan was, to try to treat this like a precursor to the playoffs. I think we knew we were going to get one of their better pitchers and [Zurn] was going to get one of our better pitchers and we’re trying to get ready for the playoffs.”

One of those walks came in the top of the first inning as Banda walked senior shortstop Noah Rodriguez, who stole second and scored when senior catcher Andrew Pyle reached on a one-out error. After Banda threw 24 pitches in the inning, he settled down and threw 19 over the next two innings.

The Matadores scored their other run in the fifth when Dominguez reached on a fielder’s choice, moved to second on a passed ball and advanced twice on wild pitches. Other than the two scoring plays, one other La Mirada player reached second.

“We pride ourselves on pitching and defense,” said Zurn. “When you do that, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win every game. That’s been kind of our formula for a very long time and that’s led to a lot of our success.”

As for the Gladiators, who fell to Paramount High 4-2 the previous day, denying the team a chance to tie Warren High for the top spot in the SGVL, they did not have a runner reach base until the third inning when sophomore second baseman Andrew Gonzalez singled and moved up a base on a wild pitch.

In the next inning, a leadoff single from junior third baseman Kyle Panganiban was wiped out on a double play. In the fifth, senior center fielder Ethan Kang singled with one out and stole second before Dominguez walked sophomore pinch hitter Mike Lee. But Dominguez struck out the next two batters. And in the sixth, a one-out walk to Panganiban was quickly erased with another double play.

“This is a very different Gahr team in the sense that we have some power arms,” said Perez. “We also have some thump. We’re okay defensively, but outside of Kang, we don’t have that blazing team speed to create chaos a whole lot.”

“He never really got in trouble,” said Zurn of his freshman hurler. “That’s kind of the big thing that was making those decisions. There never really was a threat. Our decision was constantly checking [the pitch count]. We had our other freshman that we feel really, really confident in, Donald Murray, who has thrown well and was ready to go.”

La Mirada (21-6-1) is one of the hottest teams around, shutting out its last four opponents and winning 10 of its last 12 games. For the season, the Matadores have posted 10 shutouts, yielded either one or two runs nine other times and have lost five games by a combined 11 runs after losing to West Ranch High 11-0 on Feb. 19.

“I’m really glad that we saw Banda, who is going to Long Beach State,” said Zurn. “I think he was up to 91 [miles per hour] today. And then they had [junior pitcher Jaden] Alba come in, whose another D1 guy and he was up to 89-90. Those are playoff arms. It’s not that we came out and got three hits. Yes, we only did. But we also saw two Division 1 college arms.”

As for the Gladiators, they went into their Division 2 first round game at Torrance High on May 5 with a 12-16 mark, the third time under Perez that Gahr has advanced to the postseason with a losing record. But Gahr also played one of the toughest non-league schedules around, going 3-11 against Division 1 teams with five of those losses coming by a run. But it must also be noted that Gahr did not have its full team for half the season.

“I think we’re a lot in a better place,” said Perez. “But it’s different because we had some injuries early on; we had some guys who sat out early on. And we played [the games] all in a row. There are a lot of schools who will pick and choose. I didn’t pick and choose. I said let’s line up every day and go ahead and play them.”

Although it’s not official just yet, there is speculation that when league play begins next season, Gahr and La Mirada will play each other three times in the last week of the regular season, creating the newest rivalry while city combatants Downey High and Warren will meet three times in the last week as well.

“It’s good for our area baseball,” said Zurn. “I think that we play really, really good baseball in this area. Gerardo does one heck of a job; he always has for a long time and his teams reflect him and the success they’ve had. I think a lot of the publicity goes to the Trinity League…but we play really good baseball in this area and it’s exciting. It’s exciting that the attention that’s going to come from the last week of the season-Gahr/La Mirada or the last week of the season-Downey/Warren. That’s fun; it’s exciting for the league.”

“I think it’s great,” said Perez. “I think we have two really strong perennial programs that aren’t too far from each other who are very competitive. They are really probably a lot more similar in a lot of areas than what you think. We have a lot of players that obviously know each other and have played with each other.”

Perez went one step further and hinted that the teams may meet or should meet more than just the three league contests.

“We have to talk about maybe what’s good for the game, too, how Oregon State plays Oregon midweek,” said Perez. “USC plays UCLA midweek outside of their series. That might be something we go ahead and try to do because I think it’s good. When you get both of us on the field together, I think it’s good for the area. We have a lot of talent; it’s probably the two teams that perennially have the most talent.”