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GATEWAY LEAGUE SOFTBALL-La Mirada blows out Gahr with monster sixth inning, moves closer to first Gateway League title

April 19, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

When last we saw the La Mirada High softball team on Mar. 6, it was hoping to eliminate Warren High from Gateway League title consideration, putting those plans on hold with a 3-1 win. This past Tuesday, the Matadores succeeded in knocking out another team from winning the league crown.

Clinging to a 3-2 lead after five innings. La Mirada sent 11 to the plate in the top of the sixth, scored half a dozen runs and routed Gahr High 10-2, improving to 15-7 overall, 5-1 in the circuit and sweeping the season-series with the Gladiators, which saw its mark drop to 9-10-2, 2-4.

“During the game, we were hitting the ball hard,” said La Mirada head coach Brent Tuttle. “We hit some shots and their center fielder was good; she made some great plays. Honestly, it was a matter of time. But as far as eliminating teams for a league title, honestly our goal, and people can say whatever they want to say, is not to win a league title when we first started off. In a league like this, our goal is to win five games. Once you get to the five games, then you can reassess your goals because now you know you’re in the playoffs. Now, we can look back at winning a title,”

The Matadores took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first when sophomore right fielder Angelina Ratzlaff singled to right to bring in sophomore third baseman Angelyna Conde. But the Gladiators, who have won just once in the last seven games, tied the game in their half of the frame on junior center fielder Natalia Hill’s home run over the left field fence.

La Mirada would regain the lead for good in the fourth inning when Ratzlaff singled to left with one out, advanced to third on a double from senior first baseman Natalie Craig and scored on a base hit to right field from sophomore second baseman Alyssa Avila. On the next pitch, junior left fielder Amber Valdez plated Craig with a base hit to right. All four hits came on a combined seven pitches thrown by junior Marley Cortez.

The Gladiators cut into their deficit in the bottom of the fourth when junior catcher Alyssa Aguilar doubled to right field and came home when junior shortstop Rio Mendez singled. The hosts had a chance to at least tie the contest as, with one out, senior second baseman Hayley Olivas was hit by a pitch and went to third after the single from Mendez, plus an error.

“I liked the way we battled back,” said Gahr head coach Rey Sanchez. “We kept it tight early on, Marley threw some great pitches early, got a little tired and some pitches got flat, and they made us pay.”

But La Mirada sophomore pitcher Montserrat Reyes-Cardenas struck out the next two batters. She would retire nine of the next 10 batters she faced, only walking Olivas with two outs in the sixth and ended the game with 10 strikeouts opposite one walk. She also scattered five hits.

“Montse is just tough,” said Tuttle. “She’ll give up a double because she supplies the power. She’ll give up a home run once in a while. But she doesn’t let it bother her and usually, she’ll get out of those situations most of the time. today, she got out of almost every jam.

“She’s a tough kid and nothing really gets to her,” he continued. “She wants the ball and if she had her way, she would try to strikeout everybody.”

The Matadores would flex their muscles in the sixth as, with one out, Ratzlaff reached on an error and Craig and Avila singled to load the bases. Freshman pinch hitter Danni Lopez singled to the left field fence and sophomore Angelie Kennedy singled as well to make it 8-2. A walk to Reyes-Cardenas loaded the bases again and a fielder’s choice from sophomore shortstop Amanda Urbina made it 9-2

“She threw some extra pitches early on in the game that…endurance-wise, we have to be careful with her,” said Sanchez of Cortes\z. “We know she can really throw four to five quality [innings]. We usually try to piece it together. We asked her to stretch it a little bit more and she ran out of gas a little bit, and they put the ball in play hard and found some holes. Credit to them; they got key hits when they needed them.

“Going into this game, we knew she wanted the ball,” Sanchez later said. “I know she wanted the ball. Typically, what we would do is may start somebody else and then bring Marley in to close games. She had a good outing against them when we brought her in in the first game.”

The last La Mirada run came in the sixth when Craig homered on the first pitch she saw from freshman Olina Burgueno. The Matadores collected 14 hits, the eighth time they have reached double digits in that category. Avila and Craig each had three hits while Conde, Kennedy and Ratzlaff all had a pair of hits and every starter reached base safely.

La Mirada, which had not played since Apr. 6, hosted Mayfair High on Apr. 20 and will travel to Norco High, ranked seventh in the nation, on Saturday before ending the regular season on Thursday against Downey High.

“After playing this weird schedule with all the rain and the [makeup] games, the 12 days off was good,” said Tuttle. “Now, we play three games this week and one game next week and…it’s going to be a Division 1 playoff game [against Norco] and when you have a kid like Montse and you have the bats we have, there’s only 27 teams in Division 1 and [the CIF-Southern Section] is talking about doing a 16-team bracket. It could be a four-team tournament; that’s all it is. If you get hot, right now, when we want to be playing our best softball, that’s what we tell our girls. When we play in April, we’re playing our best softball.”

La Mirada became the first league team to sweep an opponent while Gahr, which began the league slate with two straight wins, having scored 24 runs in those games, has lost four straight in the circuit, outscored 27-8 in those contests. The Gladiators visited Downey on Apr. 20 and will host Warren on Tuesday and Paramount High on Wednesday.

“Two of those games were against La Mirada,” said Sanchez. “So, we faced a very good pitcher in Montse. She’s tough; she’s definitely a quality pitcher and she made good pitches when she needed to. She got some key strikeouts when she needed to. We could have executed a little bit better and put the ball in play a little bit better than we did.