Softball: Drange, Cox lead La Canada back to Irvine.

By Erik Boal, Staff Writer

LA CANADA FLINTRIDGE – Kelsey Drange wasn’t going to take a walk. Catherine Horner wasn’t going to let Nipomo run. And Lauren Cox wasn’t going accept anything less than a return to the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 softball final.

Drange’s full-count single inside the left-field line scored Katy Lee in the sixth for La Canada’s lone run, Horner threw out four baserunners and Cox overcame seven walks and a hit batter by striking out 13, lifting the host Spartans to a 1-0 semifinal victory Tuesday.

La Canada (25-4-1), the top seed, will face No. 2 Beaumont (25-4) – a 7-1 winner over Barstow – in a rematch of last year’s final Friday or Saturday at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.

“I’m happy we held up our end of the bargain,” La Canada coach KC Mathews said. “But more than anything, I’m happy for these girls. I’m happy to see their hard work fulfilled. But the goal was not just to get there, the goal is to finish it off.”

The Spartans prevailed 1-0 in last year’s championship to capture their first division title since 1995. With Nipomo runners on first and second in the seventh, Cox (23-3) struck out the final two batters to extend La Canada’s postseason winning streak to nine in a row.

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Quarterfinals: WSGV baseball goes 3-for-3 as Alhambra makes first semifinals since 1948 with 4-2 win over Lancaster; Temple City is fueled by Ben Arrue’s grand slam in 6-2 win over Granite Hills; Monrovia grinds out 1-0 win over Jurupa Valley.

By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer

LANCASTER — It’s hard to believe that as much success as Alhambra High School baseball coach Steve Gewecke has had in his 17 seasons with the program that only now the Moors are enjoying their best year yet.

Time to start believing.

For the first time since 1948, Alhambra is headed back to the semifinals after a 4-2 quarterfinals victory over Lancaster on Friday afternoon in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.

Alhambra (23-3) on Tuesday will face Beckman, which beat Los Altos, 2-1. The Moors likely will host the game at Moor Field since they’ve had only one home playoff game to Beckman’s two home playoff games, but that won’t be determined until the playoff brackets are updated over the weekend.

Regardless, Alhambra’s ecstatic about accomplishing the seemingly elusive feat.

“I don’t know if it’s quite hit yet,” said Gewecke, who for the first time as a head coach reaches the semifinals. “It’s amazing how many people are calling and texting. So many ex players have talked about how they’ll be there on Tuesday. It’s been a real fun bus ride so far.”

Gewecke reached the semifinals in 1995 as an assistant at Mountain View, and this quarterfinals appearance was Alhambra’s first since 1987.

The 150-mile round trip to Lancaster wasn’t ideal, much less the weather conditions that saw 30 mph winds for most of the game. Those obstacles, however, proved to be mere speed bumps for Alhambra (23-3), which again turned to sophomore Marco Briones to keep the magic going, and again he was brilliant.

The left-hander, coming off a near-perfect game in the second round before it was broken up in the seventh, was poised and maintained composure in pressure moments despite a boisterous standing-room only crowd letting him hear it as host Lancaster (17-12) made a valiant effort to break him, but to no avail.

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Softball: La Canada’s Lauren Cox tosses 1-hitter, records 20 strikeouts and helps Spartans advance to Tuesday’s semifinals with 7-0 victory over Mary Star of the Sea; Beaumont too much for Monrovia, 4-0.

By Dave Thorpe, Staff Writer

SAN PEDRO – Lauren Cox was even more masterful than her usual dominant self in the circle, and La Canada was opportunistic on offense during its 7-0 victory over Mary Star of the Sea in the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon at the San Pedro Softball Complex.

Cox threw a one-hitter with 20 strikeouts to go along with three walks. Her performance propels La Canada (24-4-1) to the semifinals on Tuesday, when it will host Nipomo – a 1-0 winner at Hemet.

It marks the third straight semifinals appearance for La Canada, which captured a CIF-SS title last year.

Cox’s 20 strikeouts is a season high for a seven-inning game, but she amassed 23 strikeouts in a 14-inning 0-0 tie against Monrovia on March 27.

“It was nice because they had not seen me before, so it’s different,” Cox said. “I felt I had all of my pitches working, so I was excited about that.”

Cox credited her catcher and the confidence she has in her defense for the big effort.

“Catherine (Horner), our catcher, really gives me confidence to throw any pitch in any situation,” Cox said. “She’s a wall back there. We felt dominant working together and I know as a team, they have my back.”

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Football: Muir freshman Darick Holmes Jr., a running back/all-everything, picks up first offer from UCLA.

UCLA pulled the trigger on a freshman and offered Muir running back Darick Holmes Jr. a scholarship, according to his father. I covered Holmes Jr. this past season (check out his hightlights below) and he was just a beast from every point on the field: running back, wildcat, wide receiver, returning punts, etc. You can bet Holmes Jr. will get more offers on the way, so let the recruiting battle begin … Even if he can’t sign until 2016.

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Baseball: Alhambra’s Juan Morales knows the meaning of work, will lead Alhambra to first quarterfinals since 1987.

By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer

ALHAMBRA – In less than four years, Alhambra High School’s Juan Morales has transformed from a pudgy catcher to the best defensive first baseman in Moors coach Steve Gewecke’s 17 seasons at the school.

It says a lot about Morales, who prior to moving to first base his sophomore year had never played the position. It speaks volumes for his strong work ethic, and that’s evident by his appearance: The senior captain has dropped 60 pounds since last November.

It was long before hitting the treadmill and eating healthier that Morales became the role model he is today. He’s helped lead Alhambra to its first quarterfinals appearance since 1987 as the Moors visit Lancaster on Friday in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 playoffs.

Morales had a chance to play varsity as a sophomore.

“Coach said if I can hit that he’d find a place for me,” Morales said and, sure enough, first base became a competition.

Morales would have to compete against upperclassmen, so he went to work. After Alhambra practices, he’d head to Almansor Park with his father, Juan Sr., and younger brother Alex.

The two youngsters would work out fielding grounders for about an hour in hopes of familiarizing themselves with the infield.

Not long before the 2010 season started, Morales was named the starting first baseman.

Gewecke calls Morales the best defensive first baseman he’s ever had, quite a statement from a veteran coach.

“We thought he had soft hands,” Gewecke said. “He’s a big kid but he moves well. I’ve had some good ones at first base and I think he’s the best defensively.”

Morales believes hard work produces strong results, and he’s seen it first-hand with his father being a prime example. His dad came to the U.S. from Guadalajara, Mexico, about 20 years ago and it wasn’t long before he rose up the ranks, going from pizza delivery driver to owning his very own franchise of Little Caesars Pizza. He’s close to owning a second.

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