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CIF-SS DIV. 1 SOFTBALL PLAYOFFS – Gahr responds to mid game challenge, erupts for big fifth inning to defeat Westlake



By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

May 11, 2022~When you’re facing a hot-hitting team that batted .401 in the regular season and had eight starters eclipse the ,340 batting average mark, you need all the motivation you can get to erase that from your mind. For the Gahr High softball team, which hosted Westlake High last Thursday in a CIF-Southern Section Division 1 first round game, it did not let a 1-0 deficit late in the game get to them.

The Gladiators, unranked in the division, erupted for seven runs in the bottom of the fifth inning and held on for a 7-3 victory. Coupled with a 7-5, eight-inning road game victory at La Serna High this past Tuesday, Gahr visited unranked Orange Lutheran High on May 12. The Lancers upset second- ranked Villa Park High this past Tuesday.

“First of all, that’s a great team over there,” said Gahr head coach Rey Sanchez. “They’ve got some great players and that pitcher is a good pitcher. That’s a great team, so hat’s off to them. Our at-bats weren’t tough enough; we weren’t tough enough early. And, when you’re not competing from the onset, I think some swings and some pitches…they kind of let get to us a little bit, and I could see it in our girls’ demeaner. We challenged them; the coaching staff challenged them a little bit.”

Early on, Gahr (22-8) was stymied by the pitching of Kaitlyn Bartlow, who had allowed just two hits through the first four innings, neither of whom advanced to second. But it all fell apart with one out in the fifth. Junior left fielder Hailey Sanchez doubled to right field and Bartlow was replaced by Linden McCarl. She was greeted by a run-scoring single from sophomore shortstop Rio Mendez, who went to third on an error. A base hit from junior right fielder Sophia Magcale plated Mendez and after a sacrifice from sophomore catcher Larissa Flores, senior second baseman Mika Huskey’s single brought in Magcale to make it 3-1.

Bartlow returned to the circle as senior catcher Breanna Lucero and sophomore center fielder Natalia Hill were pumping up the crowd. The energy worked as junior third baseman Hayley Olivas blasted a two-run home run over the left center fence.

“I think what really started that inning was when [Westlake] head coach [Bob Creamer] got fired up because of an illegal pitch that was called,” said Huskey. “That fired us up in the dugout, which I think also fired up [Hailey Sanchez] because we were all in it and we were all screaming. After that, the hits kept on stringing together and we kept scoring.”

“This girl is a rise ball pitcher,” said Rey Sanchez. “She had it going, and she was beating us early and we had prepared for that. I had talked to the team in the last two days of practice we had…we set up for rise balls. We were talking about staying committed to the ground and not rising up out of your legs and all and having that plate discipline.”

The inning continued with senior designated player Amanda Ta’amu doubling down the left field line, Bartlow walking sophomore pitcher Hayley Cortez and Hill to load the bases and Hailey Sanchez singling to center to wrap up Gahr’s scoring. The pitching change came somewhat as a surprise to many despite Bartlow having thrown 73 pitches before being replaced.

“At that point I was; I honestly was,” said the Gahr coach. “But obviously, that coach knows his players better. I was a little bit surprised because I thought that girl was doing a pretty good job. But I think he has enough trust in the lefty pitcher, who also is a very good pitcher.”

“Hayley has been our clutch hitter all year,” he later said of the home run. “She had two tough at-bats; they weren’t her best at-bats. She struck out looking and then got jammed. But this is what good hitters do. They make in-game adjustments, and that’s what Hayley did in that situation.”

But Westlake wasn’t about to go away that quickly. In the top of the sixth inning, Marian Elohim singled and Kaylee Clarkson homered over the right center fence. After that, Cortez settled down to retire five of the last six batters she faced and ended the game scattering seven hits while striking out two.

“Marley didn’t have enough pitches today,” said Rey Sanchez. “She struggled with some of her pitches, her changeup wasn’t close, and we’ve been trying to get that pitch down and she knows that. But the thing that Marley has is she’s got courage. She’s not afraid; she’ll get in there and she’s going to battle you no matter what. She’s been our girl all year long.”

“We have hitters on our team, and I don’t think we were really scared for them coming in knowing that their numbers were high, and knowing that they played good teams during league,” said Huskey. “I think the win against Warren put us in a good position here and it kept our energy going throughout this game.”

Flores, Huskey and Hailey Sanchez all had a pair of hits as the Gladiators, who won the San Gabriel Valley League, are in a familiar place from a few seasons back. The program reached the Division 1 championship game in 2018, advanced to the semifinals in 2015 and 2019 and the quarterfinals in 2016. Last season, Gahr went 14-7, finished in third place in the SGVL and was bounced out in the first round.

“I don’t know so much turnaround as…last year we did struggle a little bit in league and we lost a couple of games early,” said Rey Sanchez. “I love the fight that our girls came into this season with from the get-go. Early on, we were swinging the bats well and we had a lot of compliments from [other] teams who said, ‘hey, you guys are swinging the bats really well’. But for the most part, I’m just proud of these girls.”

“I think this year, we have much better team chemistry than last year because of Covid, we were all online and we would only see each other at practice during the week,” said Huskey. “But I think being back in school and seeing each other 24/7, literally, has brought us so much closer together.”

With a win over Orange Lutheran, the Gladiators would face either sixth-ranked Pacifica High or third-ranked Roosevelt High on Saturday in the semifinals.