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Late inning errors send Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team home early

PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS

By Loren Kopff

FOUNTAIN VALLEY- The Artesia Punishers 18 Gold travel softball team was one out away from escaping a furious rally by the (Chandler) Arizona Hotshots in an elimination game at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships this past Wednesday evening. But the Punishers were plagued by four errors in the top of the seventh inning, which led to four unearned runs in a 9-7 loss at the Fountain Valley Sports Park.

It was the second loss in 28 hours in the double elimination playoffs of the tournament, thus ending head coach Bob Medina’s debut in the PGF National Championships. He had previously been in several Amateur Softball Association 18-Under ‘A’ National Championships, winning it all in 2007.

“I told the girls we played hard and we kind of dominated offensively,” Medina said. “Every time we needed a run, we got a run. Their pitchers were throwing very well and we adjusted; we made things happen. Offensive, I think we did a great job. But of course you have to play both sides of the game and the defensive end failed us.”

The Punishers fell behind in the top of the second as Dana Morris launched a leadoff home run over the left centerfield fence. But the Punishers answered back in their half of the frame when third baseman Raquel Manzo (La Habra High School) led off with a single and Danielle Block walked second baseman Monica Rodriguez (Banning High School) and center fielder Samantha Edmiston (Lakewood High School) to load the bases. Manzo would score on a base hit from left fielder Melissa Ortega (Notre Dame de Namur University) and two outs later, a fielder’s choice from designated player Berlyn Benavides (Bonita High School) put Artesia in front 2-1.

A home run to deep center from Avianna Davis tied the game but the Punishers responded with two more runs in the bottom of the third. Edmiston’s single to shallow right plated Manzo and a groundout from Ortega brought in Rodriguez. With the Punishers up 5-2 after four innings, the Hotshots used the long ball to tie the game in the next inning. With two outs and two on, Taylor Beeson sent a 2-2 pitch over the left field fence.

But again, the Punishers rallied back in their half of the inning and took a 7-5 lead. Shortstop Camille Manzo (La Habra High School) reached on an infield single, moved to second on a passed ball and to third on a groundout before scoring on a wild pitch. A few batters later, Raquel Manzo’s infield single plated right fielder Megan Ottino (Seattle University), who was safe after a strikeout and wild pitch on the same play.

In the top of the seventh, McKenna Wiegand and Megan Donahey each reached on an error. Two outs later, Mallory Belknap laced a single that ricocheted off of pitcher Sydney Overly (North Torrance High School/Boston University) and into center field, tying the game. After a walk to Morris, another error allowed Belknap to score the eventual game winner and a single from Beeson brought home Morris.

Overly went the distance scattering seven hits and striking out five. She was coming off a two-hitter against the (Keizer) Oregon Panthers earlier in the day as the Punishers momentarily staved off elimination in a 7-1 victory. In that game, the Punishers pounded out 13 hits with catcher Jennifer Vasquez (Norwalk High School) going three for three with a double and a triple and Benavides, Ottino and the Manzo sisters all collecting two hits. Overly, who was playing with a pulled rib muscle, struck out four and tossed 72 pitches against the Panthers, who defeated the Punishers 5-3 this past Monday in the final pool play game.

“I think Syd did a fabulous job,” Medina said. “I expected less of Syd but she pitched a fabulous two games today. She came to me and said, ‘coach, I want it’. Syd is coming back next year with us. She’s a senior this year and we have her for another 12 months. Her bouncing back [from yesterday’s loss] is a very big asset to our team. She has been a leader since she joined our team and has been very dominant, beating all of the key teams.”

After going 1-2 in pool play action, which had no bearing on the bracket format, the Punishers were dominated by the (Hillsboro) Oregon Thunder 6-1 this past Tuesday. The Punishers were limited to just four hits and scored their only run in the top of the fourth when Raquel Manzo, who had been safe on an error, scored on another error following a base hit to right from first baseman Alyssa Stolmack (La Canada High School). The Thunder put the game out of reach in the fifth with tree runs.

“There’s a lot of good talent out here, so going to the loser’s bracket right away with two hurt pitchers doesn’t surprise me,” Medina said. “That’s probably where we were going to end up sooner or later…in the loser’s bracket.”

Medina vowed that he plans to return to the PGF National Championships next year, thus doing away with any type of major ASA tournaments.

“We couldn’t ask for better weather, ever, in any softball world,” Medina said. “That’s what we have here. This is the best place to be playing softball. I’d play here before I play anywhere else and that’s why for the last three years, all we did was come here [to qualify]. But putting together a showcase team for scholarships only, which we succeeded in, we really wanted to start going after [a national championship].”

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