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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW – Baseball, softball playoffs to begin with several ranked area teams

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

Of the area’s 16 baseball and softball teams, more than half of them will keep their seasons going as the CIF-Southern Section playoffs commence on May 2 for softball and Cerritos High baseball, and May 3 for the other baseball teams. For the La Mirada High softball team, it will play its first game on May 7. And of the 10 area playoff teams, only four are ranked in the top 10 in their respective divisions. Here’s a look at the first round matchups.


Division 1

Gahr High (17-10 overall, 9-3 in the Gateway League, second place) @ Fullerton High (18-9-1, 7-3 in the Freeway League, first place)

After its win at Norwalk High on Apr. 18, Gahr was all alone in first place, a game ahead of La Mirada with three to play. But the Gladiators lost to Crean Lutheran High two days later, then were swept by the Matadores to enter the playoffs as the league’s second place representative. At one point, Gahr was 5-5 before winning five straight games. The Gladiators went 3-8 against Division 1 teams but edged fourth-ranked Santa Margarita High 4-3 after losing to the Eagles 4-2 earlier in the season.

Gahr’s offense may not be what we’re used to seeing as the team is batting .255, and of the regular starters, sophomore Andres Gonzalez is leading the way with a .296 clip, 29 hits, 21 runs scored and 19 runs batted in. The strength of the Gladiators figures to come in the pitching department where senior A.J. Gonzalez (6-4, 1.67 ERA, 36 strikeouts), junior Matthew Sandoval (1.14 ERA, 21 strikeouts) and sophomore Jake Ourique (6-1, 1.04 ERA, 51 strikeouts) have carried the team.

The Gladiators have reached the quarterfinals six times since 1999, including last season, and advanced to the semifinals in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2012.

Fullerton split with league foes Sonora High, La Habra High and Buena Park High to finish the season. All three losses, by a combined five runs, were on the road. Before that, the Indians had won eight of 11 games. Malachi Meni leads the team with a .422 average while Zach Fany is right behind him at .413. Fany and Meni also have 38 and 35 hits, respectively.

The winner of this game will face either Tesoro High or Santa Margarita on Tuesday.

Oaks Christian High (14-13, 9-6 in the Marmonte League, third place) @ #6 La Mirada (21-6, 11-1 in the Gateway League, first place)

The Matadores picked up their eighth straight league title, the last two coming in the Gateway League, and now begin the trek through the toughest division in high school baseball. La Mirada, which went 8-3 against Division 1 teams, began the season with two straight losses but come into the playoffs winners of eight of its last nine. The Matadores have a team that can make another deep run in the playoffs. They batted .309 in the regular season and belted 15 home runs. Junior Kevin Jeon leads the way with a .418 average and 33 hits while junior Maverek Russell is hitting .415 with 27 hits. Three other players have over 20 hits while on the mound, senior Walker Calvo (7-1, 10 starts, 1.34 ERA, 34 strikeouts), sophomores Kaden Corns (3-1, three starts, 0.84 ERA, 40 strikeouts, three saves) and Jacob Oropeza (1-1, five starts, 0.29 ERA, 34 strikeouts, one save) and freshman Luke Armijo (4-1, five starts, 1.15 ERA, 31 strikeouts, two saves) are hard to beat.

Oaks Christian is one of three Division 1 playoff teams with fewer than 15 victories and come into the game losers of three of its last four games. The Lions have scored at least 10 runs just twice, as opposed to seven times for La Mirada, and have scored 55 fewer runs than the Matadores.

The winner of this contest will play either Foothill High or South Hills High on Tuesday.

Division 4

Hesperia Christian High (14-7, 3-5 in the Cross Valley League, third place) @ #9 Cerritos (20-6, 10-0 in the 605 League)

The Dons may be the kings of the 605 League, winning 43 of the 44 games played since the league was formed entering the 2018-2019 school year, but getting past the second round would be a steppingstone for a program that has become respectable since 2015. Cerritos began the season with five straight wins before losing three in a row and has won two of three games against Division 4 teams. Seniors Carter Chi and Johan Gibbs and juniors Dalton Chi and Braxton Reed are all batting over .410 with at least 25 hits. Sophomore Justin Sagun also has 26 hits as the Dons have scored at least 11 runs in 11 games. On the mound, senior Jack Lake is 7-0 with an ERA of 2.04 and junior Christian Wright is 7-2 with an ERA of 1.22. Gibbs is another solid starter with an ERA south of 3.00.

Despite their record and third place league finish, the Patriots enter the postseason on a three-game winning streak, which comes after a three-game losing streak. They have also scored 11 runs fewer than Cerritos in six fewer games. Hesperia Christian batted .336 with four players over .400.

The winner of this game will play either Apple Valley High or eighth-ranked Los Osos High on Tuesday.

Division 7

Artesia High (12-11, 6-4 in the 605 League, third place) @ Eisenhower High (14-4, 10-2 in the Skyline League, first place).

The Pioneers have been rocky all season long, losing their first three games, then winning four straight before going 3-7. They ended the regular season winning five of their last six games. Artesia went 1-2 against Division 7 teams and had two other games against Division 7 opponents cancelled because of inclement weather. While team and individual statistics are unavailable, senior pitcher John Ceballos went 3-4 with a pair of complete games and freshman pitcher Ramon Chavez was 3-3 entering the final week of the season.

Eisenhower has won three straight games and 10 of its last 11 contests and both league losses came to second place Arroyo Valley High. The Eagles have scored at least 10 runs seven times whereas the Pioneers have two games of at least 10 runs.

This is the third straight season Artesia has advanced to the playoffs, the first time that has happened to the program since 2003-2005. The winner of this game will play either Paramount High or South El Monte High on Tuesday.


Division 1

Esperanza High (15-11, 5-4 in the Crestview League, tied for second place) or JSerra High (15-13, 4-4 in the Trinity League, tied for second place) @ #6 La Mirada (19-5-2, 8-0 in the Gateway League)

This is the only division that has eight first round games and seven wild card contests. Because of that, La Mirada will have to wait until Tuesday to play its first game. The Matadores went 5-3-1 against Division 1 teams but have faced one division opponent since Mar. 2, and that came last Saturday against Norco High.

The Matadores have been solid throughout the season, winning the consolation championship of the Dave Kops Tournament of Champions in early March as they built their record to 9-2-2, and ended the regular season winning eight of their last nine games. La Mirada junior Montse Reyes-Cardenas is one of the best in the Southland and has a 15-2 record with her lone setbacks coming to Huntington Beach High (4-1) and Tesoro (2-1). Freshman pitcher Alison Ortega is shaping up to be the future of La Mirada softball, winning all four of her decisions while senior Rebecca Eckart, juniors Angelyna Conde and Amanda Urbina and freshman Riley Hillard are some of the offensive sparks in a lineup that can hurt opponents one through nine.

If there are no upsets in the first round, La Mirada and Norco will face each other in the quarterfinals on May 9.

Division 2

Gahr (14-10, 6-2 in the Gateway League, second place) @ El Toro High (17-7, 6-3 in the Sea View League, second place)

If the current trend continues for Gahr, then there could be another trip to the semifinals, as was the case in 2019 and 2022. But the Gladiators also hope to avoid a first round exit for the second straight season and third in the last four seasons. Of the 10 losses, six have come to Division 1 teams while going 2-3 against Division 2 teams.

Senior Natalia Hill leads Gahr with a .530 average, 35 hits, 24 runs scored and 25 RBI while senior Marley Cortez has a .476 average and 30 hits and senior Rio Mendez at .361 with 22 hits Junior Malaia Huskey is batting .348 with 23 hits and 18 RBI while Cortez and junior Isabella Gonzalez have been the two aces in the circle.

El Toro has won 11 of its last 14 games and has six players all batting over .300 with at least 20 hits and at least 11 RBI. Kylie Loertscher is the leader in the circle with a 1.83 ERA and 139 strikeouts.

The winner of this game will play either Temescal Canyon High or Temple City High on Tuesday.

Division 3

La Canada High (16-8-1, 8-4 in the Rio Hondo League, second place) @ Cerritos (15-3, 9-1 in the 605 League, first place)

Cerritos baseball owns the 605 League, and the softball team has been doing the same, going 48-2 in the circuit. Cerritos saw its 43-game winning streak in league contests snapped by Pioneer High on Apr. 23 in an 8-2 affair. The other two setbacks this season came to Mark Keppel High (6-3) on Feb. 22 and St. Joseph High (9-4) last Thursday. The Dons have been bounced out in the first round nine times since 2011 but have also advanced to the quarterfinals twice and the semifinals once since 2015.

Senior Kylee Manibusan leads Cerritos with a .500 batting average and is also 10-2 in the circle with a 2.57 ERA while seniors Natalie Gardea and Michelle Meza are batting .475 and .458, respectively. This will be the first division opponent for Cerritos.

La Canada has won eight of its last nine games with the lone loss coming to league champion Temple City High on Apr. 23. The Spartans are barely batting over .300, but Elle Leckrone leads the team with a .475 average, 29 hits, 29 runs scored and 26 runs batted in. She also has over 80 strikeouts in the circle.

The winner of this game will most likely travel to fourth-ranked Etiwanda High on Tuesday.

Division 4

Covina High (11-10-1, 7-8 in the Valle Vista League, third place) @ Norwalk (18-7, 8-2 in the Mid-Cities League, second place)

Norwalk had anticipated on winning a second straight league title, but Paramount ruined those plans. Now, the Lancers aim to take their frustrations out on Covina. If there’s any extra motivation, the Lancers were upset at home in the first round last season after advancing to the quarterfinals in 2022. Norwalk went 1-2 against Division 4 teams and is led by seniors Jalynn Banda (.493 average, 34 hits, 21 RBI) and Kendall Nakano (.652, 50 RBI, 43 hits, 36 runs scored and 16 home runs) and junior Jezrael Acosta (.417, 25 hits, 16 runs, 16 RBI). Banda is also 14-6 with an ERA of 2.10 and 183 strikeouts. The Lancers enter the playoffs as winners of 11 of their last 13 games.

Covina began the season 4-1-1 and later went on a four-game winning streak. But since Mar. 29, the Colts have gone 2-5 and have just four players who have recorded at least 20 hits.

The winner of this game will most like play top-ranked Oxnard High, provided J.W. North High doesn’t pull off the upset.

Division 5

Artesia (13-7-1, 8-2 in the 605 League, second place) @ #9 Carter High (16-5, 8-0 in the San Andreas League)

Minus the two league losses to Cerritos, the Pioneers outscored their league opposition 111-7 as they heated up in the back end of the season following a 2-5-1 start. Against teams in the division, Artesia went 5-1-1 with the lone loss coming to Valley Christian High, 13-1, in the third game of the season. Senior Arianna Franco leads the Pioneers with a .564 average and is one of seven players to own a batting average north of .350, including junior Kaleyse Foster, who is batting .435 in eight games since becoming transfer eligible. Senior Maya Torres is 8-2 with an earned run average of 2.24.

Carter enters the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak and has won 15 of its last 16 games and the Lions are batting over .450 as a team with five players batting over .500 and four more batting over .400.

This is the fifth straight playoff appearance for Artesia, which went to the semifinals last season. The winner of this game will most likely travel to eighth-ranked Quartz Hill on Tuesday, or face Apple Valley.

Highland High (16-9, 12-2 in the Golden League, second place) @ #6 Valley Christian (14-6, 5-3 in the Olympic League, tied for second place)

V.C. was 11-3 on Mar. 21 but when it played its first game after Spring Break at league champion Whittier Christian High on Apr. 9, it was the beginning of a 3-3 end to the season. Despite the late season slump, the Defenders tied for second place in the Olympic League for the second straight season. V.C. lost in the second round last season and it will be a tougher feat to go farther this time around. The 14 victories, though, are the most for the program since 2012 when that team went 18-9.

Sophomore Peyton Kingery leads the Defenders in average (.647), hits (44) and runs scored (28) while junior Britton Brown is batting .424 with 25 hits, 20 runs scored, 18 RBI and two home runs. Junior Kayla Martin is also hitting .406 with 32 RBI, 28 hits and 25 runs scored.

After a slow start to the season in which Highland lost four of their first five games and seven of 10, it went on a 10-game winning streak. The Bulldogs can score and have reached double-digits in 14 of the 16 victories. They are hitting over .407 as a team and have five players batting over .400. Mackenzie Martinez is the leader with a .488 average, 41 hits and 35 runs.

The winner of this game will play either Coachella Valley High or Shadow Hills High on Tuesday.