_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


GATEWAY LEAGUE BASEBALL – Alba wins pitching battle in first game of doubleheader as Gahr sweeps Downey

March 22, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Mother Nature has wreaked havoc on high school baseball teams for the past month, forcing almost every school to reschedule not just once with one team, but in many occasions, a second time. For Gahr High, it was to have opened Gateway League action on Mar. 14 with Downey High, but was rained out.

So, in a rare occasion for a league outing, the two played a doubleheader last Saturday at Gahr with the Gladiators being the home team both times. Gahr came away with a sweep, winning the first game 2-0 behind the stellar pitching of senior Jaden Alba, then getting a late run in the nightcap to edge the Vikings 3-2. The Gladiators, ranked third in the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 polls, improved to 6-2-1 overall.

The first game was a classic pitcher’s duel between Alba and Thomas Quinones, both of whom went the distance, combined for 24 strikeouts and two walks. And the game remained scoreless through the first four innings.

“It’s just a lot of unique circumstances obviously for everybody,” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “You haven’t gotten the rhythm of getting a lot of live at-bats, practice routines, Saturday morning, league play. There’s just a lot of layers that knock you a little bit outside the norm. It took us a little bit to settle in.

“I thought our at-bats got better late,” he continued. “I didn’t think we did a good job of adjusting to the umpire and Quinones. It’s different than what we’ve kind of been playing.”

“Coming into this game, we just wanted to win,” said Alba. “I started off hot because it’s a doubleheader and most of the time in high school, doubleheaders are kind of hard to stay focused after you get a game break and come back and play another game after winning the first one.”

Alba was in control from the very beginning, surrendering a one-out single to Samuel Mojica in the top of the first, inducing Fabian Lopez into a groundout, then striking out four straight batters. He would yield a one-out single to Lopez in the fourth, a lead-off single to Michael Reyes in the fifth and a two-out infield knock to Lopez in the sixth.

Only four runners reached base with none getting past second. On top of that, Alba threw first-pitch strikes 14 times and was ahead in the count 0-2 10 times. To cap off the great outing, sophomore center fielder Jake Curneen dove forward to take away a base hit from Matthew Garcia for the first out in the seventh.

“The big thing was jumping ahead; getting the first strike,” said Alba. “If you get that first strike, and then get ahead on the second strike, you have more success to win. That’s what we preach; getting ahead and staying ahead and just not letting them put us in pressure. We put them in pressure and keep attacking.”

“That’s commitment to his work ethic, honestly, and his commitment to his routines; to try to stay normal for him to come out here and to do that as much as possible,” said Perez.

But Quinones was holding his own early on, striking out 10 batters through the first four innings (15 batters), giving up three hits and walking one. No Gahr runner got to third until the fifth inning when freshman shortstop Andres Gonzalez doubled to center with two outs and came home on a triple from senior shortstop Kyle Panganiban. In the next inning, Quinones walked senior pinch hitter Christian Johnson and with one out, surrendered a double to senior first baseman Alahni Salcedo.

“He threw three pitches for strikes and he was able to stretch the plate off the plate,” said Perez of Quinones. “He was getting that call and had us off-balanced a little bit. About midway through the game, we started making adjustments. We took too long, but we did make it later.”

In the second game, Gahr struck early with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first as senior catcher Angel Cortez singled to right with one out and came home when Salcedo tripled down the left field line. Four pitches later, freshman designated hitter Bryce Morrison sent a ball to center, deep enough for Salcedo to come home. It seemed to be enough for senior pitcher Noah Andrunas, who went into the fifth inning, scattering three hits and striking out five.

But he led off the inning walking Armando Sanchez, then with one out, gave up a double to Damien Gonzalez before walking Reyes to load the bases. Two pitches later, Aaron Torres tied the game with a double before getting thrown out at third base.

Junior third baseman Jose Perez singled to begin the bottom half of the sixth and scored the game-winner with two outs on Alba’s single to left. The Gladiators collected eight hits with Perez the lone recipient of two of them.

“We’re very comfortable manufacturing runs and doing that kind of stuff,” said Perez. “But I kind of have a club that’s a little bit more physical this year. It’s a little bit unique, but I’m glad that we have some of the principles as far as being able to manufacture runs when you need to.”

Junior A.J. Gonzalez replaced Andrunas and worked out of a two-out, bases loaded jam in the sixth when he struck out Michael Medina, who struck out five times in the two games. Then in the seventh, and with Reyes at first with a one-out single, Gonzalez got Torres to fly out to center and struck out Angel Garcia, who never put the ball in play in his four at-bats.

The Gladiators have now won 10 of the past 11 meetings with the Vikings, 15 of the last 17 and last season, swept Downey by identical 2-1 scores. Downey is the first opponent for Gahr not situated in Division 1 or Division 2.

“They’re a good club,” said Alba. “No matter who people think is better, it’s going to be a close game every single time. They come out there and compete no matter what. Obviously, they did today. They stuck around with us the whole seven innings.”

Gahr was to have hosted Bellflower High this past Tuesday but instead will host the Buccaneers in another league doubleheader on Friday. On Saturday, Gahr is expected to travel to Foothill High and was to have visited its toughest league challenge in La Mirada High on Tuesday. However, that game and an originally scheduled Mar. 30 contest have since been moved to Apr. 25 and Apr. 26, a day before their regularly scheduled meeting. Those three games will take place on the last week of the regular season.

“I think everyone has experienced it,” said Perez of the recent storms. “Actually, if you take a look at most of the top-ranked schools, they’ve all had losses. I think it’s just real tough to find your rhythm; your consistency. This game is tough enough to be consistent at, let alone trying to find consistency when you don’t practice. But, at the same time, I don’t want to take anything away from what Jaden did. I don’t care who he would have faced today, I think he lived up to the promise.”

“It’s been kind of tough,” said Alba. “Obviously, it’s last minute trying to figure out when you’re pitching. But, it’s always just trying to stay locked in, coming to practice, getting your throwing done, planning on bullpens and playing as fast as possible in the week.”