Gahr Had Own Story To Write In Final

Gahr High of Cerritos players celebrate after their victory over California of Whittier in the CIF Southern Section D2 final on Saturday in Irvine. Photo: Harold Abend.

With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the seventh and trailing 4-3, the Gladiators staged a rally to beat California of Whittier, 5-4, in the CIF Southern Section D2 championship on Saturday. It spoiled what would have been a sentimental win of epic proportions for California, which has been led the past two years by head coach Jason Ramirez despite his worsening conditions from ALS. The Condors can still have a celebration in the CIF SoCal regional playoffs as they will be one of the few CIFSS top teams accepting their bid. Etiwanda also featured in this post for winning the CIFSS D3 crown.

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Since early May, when the CIF Southern Section softball playoffs began, the saga of the California Condors of Whittier and its head coach Jason Ramirez, who was diagnosed with ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) last year, has taken the spotlight on somewhat of a statewide level.

The story first gained local coverage in Los Angeles area media last season after Ramirez was diagnosed but led California to a second-place finish in the Del Rio League and a spot in the CIFSS D2 playoffs. Then after the team went to the CIF Southern California D2 regional semifinals, he also was named the Cal-Hi Sports Medium Schools State Coach of the Year.

This season, despite the condition of Ramirez beginning to worsen, California won the Del Rey League with a 12-0 record after which a video of him signing a poster with tears on his face went viral around the nation. The possibility of he and the girls winning a CIFSS title then gained more traction after a 14-inning 7-5 victory over Whittier Christian and then a 12-inning 8-7 semifinal win versus Valley View of Moreno Valley. That put the top-seeded and Cal-Hi Sports No. 13 state-ranked Condors with a nine-game winning streak going into their title game matchup with No. 23 ranked Gahr of Cerritos.

The stands and the surrounding grassy knolls were just as packed on Saturday night at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine for the CIFSS Division 2 championship as they were for the Friday D1 title game won by Pacifica of Garden Grove, but the noise level was even higher.

Perhaps knowing the season isn’t over yet made it a little easier for head coach Jason Ramirez and team at California (Whittier) to crack a few smiles after tough loss in CIFSS D2 final. Photo: Harold Abend.

After all the cheering and flag waving was said and done, it was the end of the CIFSS title dream for California with a two-out walk-off double in the bottom of the seventh by Gahr senior star Marley Cortez that drove in seniors Larissa Flores and Natalia Hill for a come from behind 5-4 victory in a game where Gahr trailed 3-0 going to the bottom of the sixth inning.

“Honestly, I was a little nervous, but I took a couple of deep breaths and thought I’m due for a hit here and I’ve just got to relax,” said Cortez after the madhouse on the field had subsided. “With everyone behind my back I knew I was due for a hit and would come through. Winning like that is crazy.”

Cortez had the one hit and two RBI, but she also walked and reached on an error, and her pinch runner Jaidu De Avusa scored in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 3-3.

The scene on the field as the winning runs crossed the plate could have been taken out of a scene from the 1965 film The Agony and the Ecstasy. As the Gahr players erupted and went into a traditional dog pile, the California players stood motionless at their positions on the field for a few moments seemingly not believing what looked like a victory slip through their hands.

Freshman pitcher Isabelle Gonzalez went all the way for Gahr (19-10) and ended up giving up four earned runs on nine hits, three walks, a hit batter and two strikeouts.

Sophomore Alexis Salas started for California (28-4) and went five innings before being taken out after she gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth to Flores. At that point, she had only given up three hits. Junior Priscilla Ramirez came on in relief of Salas and things began to unravel.

Following Flores’ base hit to open the sixth, Hill was walked by Ramirez. The next batter was Cortez and as previously mentioned she reached on an error, but it came with a twist. Her sharp grounder to second looked like a potential double play but it was backhanded by the second baseman and flipped to the shortstop wildly loading the bases. Ramirez induced a a fly out to left, but despite it being fairly shallow, Flores broke for the plate and beat the throw to cut the California lead to 3-1. On the throw to the plate the runners advanced to second and third. The next batter was senior Rio Mendez and after a passed ball scored Hill, she doubled home the tying run to make it 3-3 and the stage was set for a seventh inning with more twists and turns than a Grand Prix racecourse.

After Gonzales induced a popup for the first out, California sophomore cleanup hitter Shirley Acevedo stepped up to the plate and wasted little time after blasting the first pitch she saw for a home run that went well over the left-centerfield fence and was never in doubt once it left the bat. Gonzales got the next two batters but at that point with the Condors leading 4-3 the stage was set and California needed only three outs to secure the title.

California decided to bring Salas back in for the seventh and she gave up a single to leadoff batter Jackie Gachupin. The next batter was senior Vivian Tavera. She attempted a sacrifice bunt but popped it up to the catcher who threw to first base doubling up Gachupin who could not get back to the base in time.

At this point California needed one out for the victory. Salas got two strikes on Flores but lost her on a walk. After Flores stole second base Salas got two strikes on Hill but couldn’t get her out and she singled putting runners on first and third setting up Cortez for her heroics.

After the raucous Gahr celebration, the California players stood around Coach Ramirez, and as he spoke to the team there wasn’t a dry eye among anyone, players, Ramirez, assistant coaches, and even some media.

Ramirez spoke for several minutes to the team but most of it was inaudible. Later he spoke to the media and despite difficulty his message came through. When asked what he had said to the team Ramirez had this to say.

“I just told them how proud I am of everything they’ve done, how far they came, and that they didn’t give up throughout these playoffs even after facing adversity. In this game it came down to the end again. Yes, I love these girls and what they’ve accomplished is amazing.”

While it appears that Gahr, CIFSS D1 runner-up Orange Lutheran and CIFSS D1 semifinalist JSerra will be opting out of the CIF Southern California regional playoffs with CIFSS D1 champion Pacifica deciding what it will do on Monday, California’s team has indicated it is going to keep playing.

“Yes we do, but it wasn’t the way we wanted it,” said Ramirez about having a spot in the regionals.

With many top teams out, it means that there could still be a celebration involving a major championship that Ramirez and his girls still may get to have.

Head coach Adrianna Brown holds up championship plaque after Etiwanda won CIFSS D3 title on Saturday in Irvine. Photo: @CIFSS /

Etiwanda captures
CIF Southern Section D3 crown

With the recent success over the past several years of the girls basketball program at Etiwanda, including back-to-back CIF Open Division state championships the past two season, there were those in Southern California that were starting to believe that Etiwanda was a girls basketball hotbed.

Those folks may very well be right, but not totally so, because after a 3-1 victory over ML King of Riverside in the CIF Southern Section Division 3 title game on Saturday, the girls basketball team has to move over for a moment for the softball team to bask in the glory of a CIFSS championship.

In fact, it was the third Southern Section softball championship for Etiwanda (28-5) but the first since 2009 when the Eagles won the Division II championship. The first section title came in 2002 when they won the Division I title.

Junior pitcher and slugging cleanup hitter Alyssa Galindo got it done in both the circle and at the plate. In the circle, she pitched a five-hitter with a walk and six strikeouts. Every time she seemed to be in a jam she went to her drop ball and was able to get outs. As a batter, she launched home run No. 12 of the season in the top of the third inning and it gave Etiwanda a 3-0 lead and a big enough cushion to coast home.

ML King (19-10) got its lone run in the bottom of the sixth on a steal of home plate by Brooke Lebsock after she reached on a fielder’s choice.

“Today we just proved them wrong,” said Galindo about those that think Etiwanda is just a girls basketball powerhouse. “We have come so far and worked so hard for this and we proved them wrong today.”

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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