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GATEWAY LEAGUE SOFTBALL – Gahr doubled up by Downey as fifth inning rally is negated by four-run sixth

March 29, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

When Gahr High hosted Downey High this past Tuesday, the game was divided into three parts. The first and third parts of the key Gateway League contest were perfect, literally, for the visiting Vikings while the second part was all Gahr.

In the end, a four-run rally by the Gladiators in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings went for naught in the next inning when Downey sent eight batters to the plate, scored four runs and posted an 8-4 victory. Gahr had won the past three meetings with Downey by a combined score of 23-2, five of the last six and 14 of the last 16. Before that, Downey owned the series, winning 11 straight meetings from May 8, 2008-Apr. 30, 2013.

Downey’s Michelle Blas was tossing a perfect game through the first three innings, throwing 32 pitches, getting three flyouts, three pop-ups, two groundouts and a strikeout. While this was going on, the Vikings were tacking on the first four runs of the game with the big blow coming from Adrianna Maldonado, who smacked a three-run home run over the left field fence in the fourth inning.

But the Gladiators found a way to get to Blas in the their half of the fourth and ended the perfect game, no-hitter and shutout very quick. Blas walked junior catcher Larissa Flores on a full count and on a 1-0 count, served up a single to junior center fielder Natalia Hill. After a sacrifice fly from senior second baseman Hayley Olivas, Flores came home when junior third baseman Marley Cortez sent a deep line drive to left field for the second out.

“Our timing was a little bit off,” said Gahr head coach Rey Sanchez. “We let [Blas] get away with some pitches; we just got a little bit antsy. We got a little bit too aggressive on pitches that we probably should have stayed back a little bit more on and driven the ball to right center. We missed a few, we got under a few and we just need to stay above the ball a little bit better.

“So, from there, we adjusted,” he continued. “We waited a little bit more and I told the girls all the hits are going to be to right center or opposite field.”

After MaKayla Garcia lined into a double play off freshman pitcher Olina Burgeuno to end the top of the fifth, Gahr continued its momentum and found a way to tie the contest. With two outs, senior right fielder Sophia Magcale was safe on an error and sophomore left fielder Malaia Huskey doubled off the top of the centerfield fence to plate Magcale. Flores then reached on an infield single to make it 4-3 and after a pitching change, Hill doubled to the right field gap to bring Flores home, making it 4-4.

“I’m proud of the girls of how they adjusted,” said Sanchez. “As a hitter, you have to be able to make one-pitch adjustments or one at-bat adjustments. The sooner you can make the adjustments, obviously the more success you’re going to have.”

Gahr’s momentum was quickly turned away as Cortez, who was in the circle to begin the sixth, walked Leilani Salgado on four pitches, yielded base hits to Tiffany Perallon, Mia Martin and Delilah Navarro before walking Reyna Perez to load the bases. A sacrifice fly from Melissa Rocha and a single from Itzel Diaz ended the scoring.

“We needed [senior pitcher] Hailey [Sanchez] to throw…there were quite a few freebies,” said Sanchez. “She had a hit by pitch and a couple of walks. She didn’t quite have her best stuff today. We were trying to get a changeup over for a strike [and] we couldn’t throw that over for a strike. When a pitcher can’t get a changeup over, you become one dimensional.

“She wasn’t throwing enough strikes,” he added. “The quality of strikes from all three pitchers that we threw today weren’t good enough. Credit to Downey, they put the ball in play hard. They found some balls that got through, but they also hit a few balls hard when they needed to. They pressure hit and we didn’t today.”

All three Gahr pitches combined to allow 11 hits as every Downey starter reached base while Hill was the only Gladiator to collect two hits and six of the nine starters reached base in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

This if the first year the Gladiators and Vikings are in the Gateway League of the new Suburban Valley Conference and while the two have had their shares of titles in the defunct San Gabriel Valley League, it’s going to be tougher this season with old rival Warren High and new league foes La Mirada High and Mayfair High. Gahr won the last San Gabriel Valley League title in 2022 and seven of the last eight overall not including the 2020 season.

“Everybody is going to battle and there are no gimmies this year,” said Rey Sanchez. “You’re going to have to earn your playoff spot. Downey is Downey and they’re going to play tough; they’re going to play hard. They always do every year and they come ready to play. It’s going to be the same with Warren and La Mirada, coming in too. And Mayfair is no slouch. They’ve got good pitching over there. You’re going to have to earn your way in [to the playoffs].”
After going 23-10 last season and advancing to the CIF-Southern Section semifinals, it hasn’t been easy in 2023, especially navigating around the rain, practice times and making up games. Gahr dropped to 8-5-1 overall and 2-1 in league as it was scheduled to face Great Oak High this past Wednesday in the opener of the Michelle Carew Classic. The Gladiators will be in that tournament through Saturday, then make up a Mar. 23 game with La Mirada on Tuesday, to be played at John Glenn High. The next day, Gahr will travel to Mayfair.

“It’s been hard to get into the flow,” said Rey Sanchez. “But everybody has been in the same situation. To try to get quality practices in and some sort of live pitching has been a challenge because we really haven’t been on the field. But everybody is in the same boat. So, it comes down to competing and they outcompeted us today. We’re going to learn from this, and we have to bounce back immediately. We have to stay true to who we are.”