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CIF-SS DIV 1 BASEBALL PLAYOFFS – Pinch hitter Afemata’s double in sixth inning gives Gahr another playoff win over Fullerton

May 8, 2024

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on X

FULLERTON-Senior pinch hitter Donevahn Afemata had one hit in 17 at-bats in the regular season for Gahr High entering its CIF-Southern Section Division 1 first round playoff game at Fullerton High last Friday. But it was his 18th at-bat that helped the Gladiators break open a close game late.

With none out and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning, Afemata was summoned by head coach Gerardo Perez to get a base hit in a 2-1 game. He did better than that as his double to centerfield brought home senior pinch runner Chase Miller and sophomore right fielder JoJo Eljaik as the Gladiators went on to post a 5-2 victory. It was the second and third runs driven in this season for Afemata, who was also walked three times and hit by a pitch as part of his now 22 plate appearances.

“I [thought] I would be put into [that situation] because I can hit the ball a little bit, as you saw today,” said Afemata. “But it was nerve-wracking. Coach was telling me [Fullerton pitcher Declan Fitzgerald] was a fastball dominant pitcher and we just hit fastballs. So, he gave me what I wanted, and I just produced.”

He said right before he went up, Perez told him he was going to get a couple of fastballs from Fitzgerald and that he better not miss it.

The inning began with Fitzgerald walking sophomore catcher Oscar Grijalva on a full count before Eljaik laced a single into right field and sophomore center fielder Julian Lucero reaching on an error. After Afemata’s double, freshman second baseman Chris Vera was out on a sacrifice with Lucero scoring Gahr’s last run.

“We’re real young and once in a while when you’re in high school, you’re fortunate if you have really complete players at an early age,” said Perez. “And we have some guys that have some really nice compliments to the guys that are playing, sometimes, off the bench. I knew Donny would be a good matchup because he swings fastballs pretty good.”

Gahr, which defeated Fullerton 10-5 in the playoffs last season, was entering the contest on a four-game losing streak which included a 10-2 loss to La Mirada High in which the Gladiators committed six errors. According to Perez, it was the worst game he’s seen in 25 years from a defensive standpoint. But the blue and gold rebounded behind the pitching of sophomore Jake Ourique. All he did was allow four runners through the first four innings, none of whom got past second base, and end up scattering six hits over six innings and striking out six while giving up a fifth inning run and a leadoff home run to Malachi Meni to begin the sixth inning.

“I think there’s a lot of layers,” said Perez. “Number one, I talked a little bit about it before the game. I think our guys were in a good place coming back to a place where they were last year. So, I think you’re familiar with where you’re going; it’s a close bus ride and you had a little success here last year. I think that bode well in our state of mind where we were mentally.

“We have guys that obviously are going to swing the bat from the very first pitch, and we have some guys that are going to try to work the pitchers and work the counts,” he continued. “It was a good game on offense for us. My compliments to Jake Ourique, again. He’s pitched a lot of games where he’s in the flow; he’s in the rhythm.”

A trio of Fullerton pitchers had a full count on Gahr hitters five times with three of them reaching base. Four other hitters saw seven pitches in their at-bats with half getting on base and two more saw eight pitches with one reaching base.

“It’s a great win; a great feeling for both years,” said Ourique. “We came out here putting trust in our team, our defense, and our hitting. Hitting was the main part.”

Ourique began his day by giving up a single to Zach Fany on a full count before getting the next four outs. Then Wayne Warren singled on a full count but was picked off first base. The move hurt the Indians because on a 3-0 count, D.J. Garcia doubled down the third base line in what should have a been a run for Fullerton. Garcia would lead off the fifth with another double and scored his team’s first run on a single from Niko Mendez.

“I just kind of lost a little control,” said Ourique. “I was going more; trying to throw harder and getting out of myself instead of attacking and trusting my defense. That was one of the biggest things.”

Gahr got on the board in the second inning when Eljaik homered over the left field fence with two outs. In the fifth inning, junior left fielder Jake Curneen and junior pinch hitter Nathan Baptista were hit by pitches and after Fitzgerald walked senior third baseman Jose Perez with one out to load the bases, a wild pitch allowed Curneen to make it 2-0. Eljaik went three for four as the Gladiators were limited to five hits.

“It was a great win for us overall,” said Afemata. “Jake pitched amazing and our hitting today…it was doing better than in recent games. Jake is one of the leaders that we have here and when he’s on the mound, we know he’s going to throw lots of strikes and he’s just going to give us lots of outs with low runs given up as you saw today,” he continued.

The Gladiators travelled to fourth-ranked Santa Margarita High this past Tuesday and were defeated by the Eagles 6-3. Gahr (18-11) had lost to Santa Margarita 4-2 in the fourth game of the season but edged the Eagles 4-3 later in the season. This is the seventh time since 2007 the Gladiators have fallen in the second round of the playoffs.