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NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW: Artesia Punishers Win 14-Under Championship

NEWS AND NOTES FROM PRESS ROW

Pitching paves the way as one of three Artesia Punishers 14-Under teams claim championship

By Loren Kopff

First, the Artesia Punishers 14-Under team managed by Jr. Vasquez, wins the skills contest prior to the beginning of the Triple Crown Sports 14-Under Open Western World Series in Park City, Utah. Then the team spends the next five days carving through its opponents en route to bringing home a championship.

The Punishers, who went undefeated in pool play action, won the first five playoff games before falling to the (Riverton) Utah Evo 4-1 last Saturday in the championship game. But the Punishers rebounded in this double elimination event and edged the Evo 3-2 later in the day to win the tournament.

“It was a great weekend in Utah,” Vasquez said. “We had fun, not just in softball, but we got the girls around to the Olympic Park before we got into our games.”

Although Vasquez said the key to winning the tournament came from every component-offense, defense and pitching, it was the performance of his daughter, Breanna, who stole most of the thunder in the Beehive State. The future Norwalk High School student pitched nine and a half of the team’s 11 games in the entire tournament, striking out 76 batters.

After the Punishers allowed four runs in the final pool play game on July 16 following three straight shutouts, the team opened the playoffs with a 6-0 win over the (Bakersfield) Triple Play last Thursday. Later in the day, the Punishers blasted the (Porterville) Bustos Elite 11-2.

Then came the real competition and the Punishers weren’t about to be intimidated. The Punishers scored all three of their runs in the bottom of the fourth inning in blanking the (Northridge) Combat Panthers last Friday. Breanna Vasquez struck out 11 batters against a team that had allowed two runs in pool play action.

“That was really a tough one because this was an opponent we played a month before we left for Utah,” Jr. Vasquez said. “We had a different pitching staff [back then] and we gave up 11 runs in a friendly. [This time], we took advantage of the designated player, went with our No. 1 pitcher and pretty much just played them strong.”

Later in the day, and facing a team that had outscored its four pool play opponents 35-1, a two-run single from Samantha Mancillas (Santa Fe High School) propelled the team to a 5-1 win against the (San Dimas) California Thunder.

That set the stage for a semifinal game against the (Simi Valley) Southern California Pumas last Saturday and the Punishers came away with a 4-1 win. But facing the Evo from the loser’s bracket, the Punishers were temporarily derailed in a 4-1 setback.

“We came in really hot, hitting all of these other pitchers who were moving the ball pretty well at decent speed,” Jr. Vasquez said. “Then we play Utah Evo and we see slow pitching. Not only that, the other team starts connecting off of our pitcher. They hit to second, they hit to short and we start making errors. Out of the four runs, we made six errors.”

It was after the game when Mancillas, the team’s cleanup hitter, talked to every one of her teammates in center field and told them that they were champions and they were not going to leave without the tournament trophy.

Her speech had a big impact on the team as the Punishers rallied for a 3-2 win against the Evo in the “if necessary, winner-take-all” game. The Punishers scored all of their runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, beginning with a base hit up the middle from Chelsea Laufer (Cypress High School). Then Miranda Gallardo (Tetzlaff Middle School) bunted Laufer over but was also safe in the process. A bunt from Mancillas loaded the bases for Erica Guerrero (Kennedy High School) who laced a line drive off of the second baseman, plating a pair of runs.

In other softball action, the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team managed by Bob Medina will kick off pool play action on Sunday in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships while the Artesia Punishers 12-Under team managed by Sam Dumlao will be participating in the United States Specialty Sports Association World Series at the Big League Dreams Complex in West Covina. The official bracket will be finalized on Monday.

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