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GATEWAY LEAGUE BASEBALL – Sandoval pitches gem as Gahr walk’s off for fifth time, stays unbeaten in league

April 17, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

You can use whatever cliché you want about the Gahr High baseball team this season, how it has been skating on thin ice or how it has been playing with fire with the close games. But the Gladiators always find a way to escape with the late wins and they did it again last Thursday when they hosted Downey High.

Held to two hits through the first six innings, Gahr doubled that total in the bottom of the seventh and senior designated hitter Mike Lee’s single to center brought home sophomore catcher Oscar Grijalva with two outs for the game-winner in a 1-0 win. It was the fifth time this season Gahr has walked off with a win, twice coming in the bottom of the eighth inning by identical 5-4 scores against Downey (Mar. 13) and Warren High (Mar. 26). The other two times came against Santa Margarita High (4-3) and Coronado High (2-1) in back to back days of the National Classic.

“One of the comments we’ve made is, I think we’ve been to the bottom, meaning we haven’t had success when we’ve struggled early to where we don’t panic when something bad happens” said Gahr head coach Gerardo Perez. “So, I think there’s a sense of, hey, who’s the next guy that’s going to do it. In this situation, Mike Lee went ahead and got the winning hit.”

“These walk-off wins are pretty good,” said junior pitcher Matthew Sandoval. “I just pray that we have energy to be able to win these games. I wish we were able to jump on them early, but it’s good that we were able to keep it close and be able to win the game.”

Sandoval had a lot to say about how the game would go as he went six strong innings, gave up a pair of hits, navigated around five walks and one other baserunner before giving way to senior A.J. Gonzalez who worked a perfect top of the seventh inning.

After getting Michael Reyes to look at a third strike to begin the game, Sandoval walked Sebastian Cortez, who would then steal second before striking out Julian Arellano. But Sandoval would walk Samuel Mojica and give up a single to Eddie Causley to load the bases. Then on a 1-2 count, he got Morise Robinson to groundout to end the threat.

After a seven-pitch second inning, Sandoval walked Cortez with one out in the third, and Mojica with two outs before getting Causley to ground out to keep the game scoreless. The only baserunners after that would be a two-out walk to Cortez in the fifth and a two-out infield single in the sixth.

“I know these guys; I’ve been facing them for the past few years,” said Sandoval of the early innings. “I just had to keep my composure and make adjustments.”

“I think he tries to do too much sometimes,” said Perez. “That’s all it is. He’s just excited to get going and wear our colors and win for us.

“He did a great job of keeping his composure and settling down,” he later said. “He’s tough; he’s really tough. He’s tough to hit off and he’s tough to make adjustments off. I’m glad he was able to come out on top, at least not go against him.”

As impressive as Sandoval was, the same can be said for Reyes, who stymied the Gahr bats as he threw 112 pitches in six and a third innings. After not allowing a runner to get past second base, through the first six innings, Reyes began the bottom of the seventh by giving up a single to junior center fielder Jake Curneen, who tried to extend the hit to a double, but was thrown out. Reyes then walked Grijalva and sophomore shortstop Andres Gonzalez, ending his time on the hill.

Arrellano replaced Reyes and after getting senior third baseman Jose Perez to pop up, Lee delivered the game-winner. The four hits Gahr got is tied for the second fewest this season.

“We’re pretty physical; we’re big, we’re strong and we’ve been able to put up some runs,” said Gerardo Perez. “We’ve been able to pitch as well. Early in the season, our defensive mistakes have led to a couple of losses to really good teams, by the way, when you’re talking about JSerra, Santa Margarita and Huntington Beach. It was just going to take a little bit. But I think as a team, we’re finding a way to win the close games, especially after something doesn’t go right.

“I think [Downey head coach Jess Gonzalez] was going to ride out [Reyes] as far as he could until the pitch total took over,” he later added. “He got to the pitch total, and I knew once we got to the pitch total, then our chances to be opportunistic was going to be better.”

Gahr, which has not lost in any of its seven Gateway League contests this season, has won eight straight over the Vikings, 14 of the past 15 and 19 of the past 21 meetings. The last 1-0 win over Downey came on May 6, 2008 with the lone tally coming in the top of the second and during the past 21 games with Downey, seven have been one-run contests. Gahr outscored the Vikings 16-6 in its three meetings this season.

“They’re a good, scrappy team,” said Sandoval. “I wasn’t able to play the first game [on Mar. 13], but these past two games have been very good games and I’m glad we were able to compete and sweep them.”

Gahr would go on to defeat Santiago High out of Corona 7-3 the next day, which was the second of seven scheduled games in a 10 day span leading up to the big end of the season series with La Mirada High. Gahr would have its way with last place Norwalk High, 13-1, this past Tuesday. After visiting Temecula Valley High on the next day and Norwalk on Apr. 18, the Gladiators are home to Crean Lutheran High on Saturday and La Mirada on Tuesday with the second game against the Matadores on Thursday.

“Sometimes with the weather and all that stuff, you keep moving games,” said Gerardo Perez. “But I feel comfortable about playing games. This time of the year, I feel it’s baseball season if the weather is nice. We’re going after anybody to go ahead and try to improve our skills.”

“It’s pretty fun,” said Sandoval. “I think I feel rejuvenated back in baseball; I’m the most happy I am with this game and I think being able to play back to back games…you just have to have the short-term memory to be able to go onto the next game.”