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GATEWAY LEAGUE SOFTBALL – La Mirada’s Reyes-Cardenas slows down Gahr’s offense in first place showdown

March 27, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

As spring break approaches, the Gateway League featured a battle between its two top softball teams with the winner staying undefeated in the circuit. La Mirada High, ranked eighth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 poll, was visiting Gahr High, nearing the top 10 in Division 2.

It was a pitcher’s duel for the first part of the contest between La Mirada junior Montse Reyes-Cardenas and Gahr freshman Isabella Gonzalez. The former got out of jams in the bottom of the first and third innings while the latter escaped the top of the second and fourth innings without any damage.

But the Matadores broke through in the fifth and added runs in the next two innings to blank the Gladiators 4-0 this past Tuesday.

Reyes-Cardenas, one of the top pitchers in the CIF-SS, fell behind in the count 2-0 to the first three batters she faced as senior shortstop Larissa Flores doubled to center on a full count and advanced to third with one out when senior third baseman Marley Cortez reached on an error. She would steal second, but Reyes-Cardenas would strike out the next two batters, then the next four before walking Flores in the third.

“She went deep counts today,” said La Mirada head coach Brent Tuttle. “She’s not going to make any excuses, but it looks like the field plays uphill, so she was up in the zone. She threw a lot of pitches today and that’s not normally her. She allowed two hits, and it was just a matter of grinding through. Our defense came through; we had the one error and…usually when there are runners on third, Montse gets tough. Just the other day, a girl had a triple and [Montse] struck out the next three.”

Flores would once again find herself standing at third with one out in the third before Reyes-Cardenas settled down and retired the next eight batters she saw. Flores would end that streak with a base hit to center and stole second with two outs in the sixth and a 3-1 count on senior catcher Alyssa Aguilar. But a groundout would end that threat. The only other runner to reach base was senior first baseman Vivian Tavera, who was walked with two outs in the seventh.

“She can go strike one, strike two on us and even when she fell behind, she came back,” said Gahr head coach Rey Sanchez on Reyes-Cardenas. “There were a couple of 3-0 counts, I remember. But she did not give in, and she came back. When we did get counts, our swings still worked aggressive enough or our pitch selection wasn’t good enough. But that young lady can pitch. She’s got some great innings ahead of her, not just here in high school, but in college. My hat’s off to her and [La Mirada].”

For the Matadores (14-4-2, 3-0), they couldn’t get a runner past second base through the first four innings despite two singles, a hit batter, a walk, an error and a fielder’s choice as Gonzalez was averaging 11 pitches an inning. But in the fifth with two outs, junior shortstop Amanda Urbina tripled to the right field corner and came home on a base hit from freshman second baseman Reese Hillard.

“I think it was a matter of staying in there,” said Tuttle. “[The umpire and Gonzalez] were working us outside and it was just a matter of the girls making that adjustment. The coaches were doing a good job calling pitches; we rolled over some early. But the bottom of the lineup got that one and energized the top of the lineup to go.”

The pivotal point of the game came in the sixth when Gonzalez walked senior catcher Rebecca Eckart and senior first baseman Amber Valdez. Both would advance on a sacrifice bunt from junior left fielder Angelina Ratzlaff. Following a strikeout, Tuttle summoned freshman pinch hitter Riley Hillard, who came through with a single to center on a 3-1 count.

La Mirada iced the game in the last inning when Eckart, who is a University of Notre Dame commit, doubled to the left field gap with the bases loaded to plate junior center fielder Angelie Kennedy and Urbina.

“It’s her first at-bat of the year coming back from a broken hand,” said Tuttle of Riley Hillard. “We were worried [because] she hadn’t seen any live pitching. We’ve been doing some batting practice. But that made her feel good, then Rebecca…she’s been on fire the last two games, hit the single up the middle to get two runs [in the seventh].”

“The strategy was there was a base open situation [and] let’s not give in to this young lady,” said Sanchez. “You’re going to pitch really tough. [Gonzalez] did exactly that on the first four pitches. We went ball one, ball two, ball three, strike one and that [last] pitch was not supposed to catch any kind of plate at all. It was supposed to miss way off the plate. In hindsight now, looking back, I was thinking we’re going to walk her, and we’ll face the next batter.”

Reese Hillard and Urbina also had a pair of hits and four others reached on a walk as Gonzalez, who was starting her sixth game of her young high school career, leads the team in earned run average (1.61), games played (15) and innings pitched (56.1).

“Bella is a great pitcher; there’s no doubt,” said Sanchez. “She’s a young lady that is experienced from travel [ball] and she is a young lady who can handle the pressure of a game like this. So, I’m not concerned with that. She made pitches when she needed to early in the game. Bella is a quality, young lady who can really take us deep. La Mirada is a good team and obviously Montse is an excellent pitcher.

This was the first of a potential six games in five straight days for the Gladiators (9-7, 2-1), who will face Norco High, ranked fourth in Division 1, in the first round of the prestigious Michelle Carew Classic, which runs through Saturday. Gahr will then face either Grand Terrace High or Great Oak High on Mar. 28 with a game on Friday and two on Saturday, weather permitting. After that, Gahr won’t be in action again until Apr. 9 when it hosts Warren High.

“We’ve played in the Carew Classic for years and years,” said Sanchez. “It’s one of the best tournaments that you can play in. It’s got every great program in it, and I knew this was going to be tough just because we had La Mirada [the day before the tournament] and it fell on that schedule. The schedule of the Carew Classic floats and it’s just one of those things. When I looked at the [Gahr] schedule, I knew it was going to be a tough run for us, no doubt.”

La Mirada, which had two games of the La Mirada Classic rained out last Saturday, hosted Mayfair High on Mar. 28 for possibly its last game until Apr. 11 when it visits Downey High. Tuttle opted out of the other two games of his own tournament, for now, as some of the players have plans for the time off from school and the originally, the Matadores did not have a game scheduled from Mar. 28-Apr. 11.

“I’m not even looking forward to part of the year,” said Tuttle. “Right now, our biggest game is Mayfair. We’re in that part of the season where the next game is always the most important.”