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GATEWAY LEAGUE all-stars after a 16-5 win over the Moore League all-stars.

June 8, 2023

By Loren Kopff@LorenKopff on Twitter

People knew the Gateway League of the new Suburban Valley Conference was going to be one of the most competitive leagues in a lot of sports, especially baseball. So, it goes without saying that when the league hooked up with the Moore League this past Tuesday in an all-star game, the Gateway League showed why it’s so tough.

Eight members of La Mirada High and half a dozen from Gahr High were part of a 25-member squad that feasted on 25 of the best from the Moore League in a 16-5 victory at Tom Bergeron Field. Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez, whose Gladiators were second in the league and finished with a 23-7-1 record, was the head coach of the league and had it not been for La Mirada High being in its dead period, head coach Jimmy Zurn might have been the head coach for this game. The Matadores won the league, had a 22-8 record and fell to CIF-Southern Section Division 1 runner-up Santa Margarita High in the quarterfinals. Gahr’s dead period isn’t until later in July.

According to Perez, the original thought was to have the game at Blair Field, home of the Long Beach State Dirtbags baseball team, then at John Glenn High. But those plans fell through and Gahr was the next best choice. The all-star game was talked about a few weeks ago, but the location of the game wasn’t narrowed down until late last week.

La Mirada senior pitcher Eric Jeon, the league’s most valuable player who will be going to Columbia University, got the start on the hill but got roughed up in the top of the first inning, giving up three runs, all coming on a one-out triple from Long Beach Poly High’s Max Pemberton. But the Gateway League countered in its half of the frame as La Mirada sophomore shortstop Aiden Aguayo, Gahr senior third baseman Kyle Panganiban, Warren High first baseman Julian Angulo all singled, the later allowing Aguayo to score. With one out, Gahr senior catcher Angel Cortez smacked a home run over the left field fence to tie the game.

“Coach [Perez] gave me the honor to start this game and I’m truly blessed with that,” said Jeon. “He told me straight up that I deserved it, and he wanted me to start the game. Getting the coach’s approval and the league’s approval, that truly meant a lot, especially in my senior year and after my graduation. It was a true send off to my future career, whatever that may be at Columbia and then after that.”

The Moore League would take a 4-3 lead in the third inning as Diego Orozco (Long Beach Wilson High) reached on an error and came home when Lucas Scott (Poly) tripled to the right field gap. But in the bottom of the third, the Gateway League added five more runs, then put the game away in the next inning with four more runs.

Brandon Lepe of Warren had a two-run double in the third with Gahr junior left fielder Mike Lee scoring the second of those two runs. In the fourth, Aguayo was hit by a pitch and scored on a Pemberton single. Later in the inning, Cortez was hit by a pitch and came home on a wild pitch. La Mirada sophomore designated hitter Maverek Russell would also have a hit and scored in the inning.

While the offense was doing its thing, collecting 15 hits, the pitching was just as stellar. Following Jeon was Gahr senior Jaden Alba (two innings, 18 pitches, two strikeouts, one hit), Gahr senior Noah Andrunas (one inning, one strikeout), Warren’s Angel Cervantes (one inning, one strikeout, 12 pitches), Downey High’s Rocco Quinones (a perfect sixth inning on eight pitches) and La Mirada sophomore Walker Calvo (one inning, one hit, one run).

“It’s been a two-headed monster all year, and by that, I mean a two-headed monster on the mound with Jaden and Noah and then we’ve had a two-headed crew with Angel Cortez and Kyle,” said Perez. “You just had to follow Kyle. You knew he was going to be at the right place at the right time doing the right thing. And he led by example so often.”

“That’s unstoppable,” said Panganiban of the league’s pitching. “They could all hit spots with good velo. As long as they’re hitting their spots, we’ll be good.”

The Gateway League tacked on a pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings and some of the pitchers got an at-bat in the later innings. Panganiban went two for three with a run scored and drove in a run while Alba, who batted for Angulo late in the game, went two for two and a run scored.

“It was a great experience being able to be on the same field as all the other guys,” said Panganiban, who will be taking his talents to California State University, Northridge. “We have a lot of [college] commits on the team, so it was pretty cool to pick each other’s brain. Playing against the Moore League is always good competition. Today, all the bats were hot.”

Angulo went two for three, scored twice and drove in two runs while Cortez scored twice and drove in a pair. Gahr junior Jose Perez went one for two and scored twice and even Calvo got a hit, driving in La Mirada sophomore Travis Friend and scoring in his only at-bat in the seventh.

“What an amazing day and an amazing group of kids,” said Perez. “As you could tell, the chemistry was really good. They all got along really well. As I sit here and think about how nice we have some things now…I was thinking about [former Gahr head coach Tom] Bergeron, the old Tom Bergeron who coached for so many years here; to sit here and have all these talented guys play on this field. I’m just real proud that we were able to step up for us at the last minute and be able to do it.”

Perez said even though the event was put together late, there has always been an all-star game between the Moore League and the old San Gabriel Valley League, and the tradition needed to continue; that it’s for the kids and the parents. He added that the leagues wanted to do it and they thought the Gateway League would be strong in its inaugural season.

“Playing alongside our rivals in the league, it was a good experience,” said Jeon. “I got to meet new guys that I competed against. On the mound, I wanted to strike them out or when I was in the box, I wanted to take advantage and get a hold of one. But overall, it was a good experience. I truly had a lot of fun.”

“I think it began as highly competitive and intense,” said Perez. “As the game progressed, it became trying to get everybody the same number of reps. By the end of it, they were trying to make memories of a lifetime. The one thing that people don’t recognize is how unselfish all the guys were. In that last inning, all the pitchers hit, which is really unique.”