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International Tiebreaker proves to be heartbreaker for Artesia Punishers 14-Under squad

ASA/USA 14-UNDER “A” NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP

By Loren Kopff

CHULA VISTA-History repeated itself for Danny Guerrero’s Artesia Punishers travel softball team in the Amateur Softball Association/United States of America 14-Under National Championship, but for the wrong reason. For the second time in about 18 hours the Punishers squandered a seventh inning lead, then lost to their opponent under the dreaded International Tiebreaker format.
This past Saturday afternoon at Mount San Miguel Park, the Punishers saw a four-run lead evaporate as the (St. Louis) Worth Prospects scored twice in the top of the seventh inning and two more in the eighth to edge the Punishers 8-7. Last Friday afternoon, the Punishers were one out away from advancing in the winner’s bracket but couldn’t hold onto a one-run lead against the (Sugar Hill, GA) Southern Force.
“Oh my gosh,” Guerrero pondered. “What’s so funny is this has happened not only this year, but it happened at [the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships] this year. It also happened last year. Last year at PGF we lost both of our games in the bottom of the seventh inning. This is something that we’re getting used to a little bit.”
The Punishers were trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the second when they batted around and erupted for five runs. Pitcher Kendall Henscheid (Huntington Beach High School) deposited a one-out single to shallow right and stole second. Two batters later, designated player Rebecca Chung (West Torrance High School) brought in Henscheid. That would be followed by singles from second baseman Danielle Lew (Los Alamitos High School) and right fielder Anyssa Ortega (La Mirada High School), a two-run double from shortstop Karina Ibarra (Lakewood High School) and a run-scoring two-bagger from center fielder Erica Guerrero (Kennedy High School).
But Lexi Slavik replaced Sarah Handrahan in the circle before Erica Guerrero’s double and handcuffed the Punishers the rest of the way. Slavik yielded five hits and allowed two runs.
“The girl that came in threw a lot of change-ups,” Danny Guerrero said. “Her speed was completely different, so that threw us off a little bit. It just kept us off balanced and we just weren’t able to make good solid contact when we needed it.”
After the Prospects crept back with three runs in the fourth and fifth innings combined, the Punishers added what they thought would be an insurance tally in the bottom of the fifth. Ibarra led off with a single to left field and eventually came home on a sacrifice fly from left fielder Pacy Villa (Frank Augustus Miller Middle School). Erica Guerrero, who was safe on an error following Ibarra’s single, would be stranded at third base.
In the top of the seventh, the Prospects loaded the bases with one out but Miranda Schulte flew out to Villa for the second out. On the very next pitch, Suzy Blolock dropped a lazy fly ball into shallow right, scoring two and tying the contest. One inning later with Olivia Jones at second per the International Tiebreaker rules, she went to third on a sacrifice and scored on an infield hit from Cassidy Knoerzer. Then two batters later, Addie Balderston’s double plated Knoerzer.
In the bottom half of the frame and with Ortega at second, first baseman Jazzmynn Loe (Los Alamitos High School) moved Ortega to third on a sacrifice where she would come home on Villa’s base hit to left field. Henscheid would then be safe on a fielder’s choice and replaced by pinch runner Rachel Hermann (Los Alamitos High School).
However, third baseman Roxanne Habash (Kennedy High School) laced a line drive to right field where Knoerzer dove to her right and snared the ball just inches from the ground that would have won the game. Four pitches later, Chung flew out to right to end the contest.
“It was a great hit and the kid just made a good play on it,” Danny Guerrero said. “Both [losses] were just like this. The girls battled all the way through. It just hasn’t been able to fall our way the last couple of times.”
Ibarra went three for four with two runs scored and two runs driven in while Chung, who batted in the seventh spot, went two for four and Ortega, in the ninth position, went two for three.
“It’s nice to hide her back there because when you get your number four hitter up, [pitchers] would used to walk her all the time on purpose,” Danny Guerrero said of Chung. “So, when we hide her back in the lineup, there are different situations where they can’t afford to walk her. And she gets more opportunities to hit the ball.”
The Punishers began bracket play last Thursday afternoon with an uncontested 10-2, five-inning victory over the (Beaverton, OR) Northwest Batbusters. Ibarra led the way with three hits and four RBI while Chung, Habash and Villa all added a pair of hits. But last Friday came the disappointing 3-2 loss to the Southern Force in 10 innings as the Punishers were limited to five hits. In the top of the third, catcher Berlyn Carreon (Los Alamitos High School) reached on an error and scored on a single from Erica Guerrero. In the top of the eighth, Valerie Rudd (Huntington Beach High School) scored on Ibarra’s base hit. But the Southern Force quickly tied the game and won two innings later.
“The thing is they’re always in the game,” Danny Guerrero said. “If you look back at every nationals we’ve been in, we’ve lost by one run every time. It’s very frustrating. I feel bad for the girls because they’ve worked so hard. I really feel that we’re the better team and it just didn’t seem to go our way.”
Later in the day, the Punishers bounced back and doubled up the (Rhome) Texas Fusion 6-3 as Ibarra and Loe each went three for four while Lew went two for three and scored twice. Erica Guerrero also scored twice.
The Punisher began last Saturday morning with a 14-0 thumping of the (East Palo Alto) Northern California Blast. A dozen batters came to the plate in the top of the first with seven crossing home. Villa provided the big blast in the inning, a two-run home run to make it 4-0. Habash would go three for three and score three runs while Loe and Villa added two hits each as the Punishers pounded out 13 hits.
The Punishers finished in a tie for 33rd place out of 121 teams but already have something to look forward to for next summer. By virtue of finishing in the top six at the PGF National Championships a few weeks back, the team earned an automatic berth for next July’s PGF National Championships. Danny Guerrero’s team also finished tied for ninth place in that event last summer.
“We have that [automatic] PGF berth for next season, so we’re going to build off of that,” Danny Guerrero said. “Hopefully we can get [an] upgrade to [the] Premier berth. If we can keep this team together, I think we have a good shot at it next year. We’ll be a dominant second-year team.”