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Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team still searching for automatic berth to nationals

PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA QUALIFIER

By Loren Kopff

HEMET-The hardest thing for any travel softball team to endure in any tournament is to go through the loser’s bracket after losing its first game. The Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team was facing that adversity in last weekend’s Premier Girls Fastpitch Southern California Qualifier at the Diamond Valley Sports Complex.

After eliminating the (San Pedro) Firecrackers-Clarke 12-1 early last Saturday morning, the Punishers couldn’t continue that momentum and fell to the (Cerritos) Southern California A’s-Quarles 7-1. It was only the third game the Punishers played in as they were seeking one of the four Premier Division berths or two Platinum Division berths to next month’s PGF National Championships.

“Of course you want to be in the winner’s bracket no matter what,” said manager Bob Medina. “But the kids on this team know that we have four strong pitchers, we have two catchers and all of them are doing well. If we drop into the loser’s bracket and have to play four or five games in a day, that’s one [game] per pitcher. We’re okay with that. If it’s 110 degrees, we split them and that’s one solid pitcher.”

The Punishers had a chance to do some damage in the top of the second inning as first baseman Monica Rodriguez (Banning High School/Notre Dame de Namur University) and second baseman Mia Wyatt (West Torrance High School) singled. After both moved up a base on a groundout, Brittany Violette walked her counterpart, Leah Gonzales (Banning High School). But two pitches later, right fielder Kayla Hemni (South Torrance High School/Chaminade University) lined into an inning-ending double play.

The So Cal A’s came back and scored twice in the bottom half of the inning with the big blow coming on a two-out triple from Riley Plogger to the left field gap in which left fielder Lauren Sabihon (North Torrance High School) and center fielder Jasmine Higa (Apple Valley High School/Monmouth University) collided. Higa would leave the game with an apparent injury to her right shin.

After Violette retired seven straight batters, she would walk Gonzales and right fielder Alexis Sargent (North Torrance High School) with one out in the fifth, but neither would score. The lone tally came in the sixth when designated player Alissa Cienfuegos (Carson High School) hit a first pitch home run over the left center fence. Wyatt would go two for three while four other players picked up a hit apiece.

“I honestly think that the umpire was squeezing us,” Medina said. “Both of our catchers were saying that they were throwing almost half the ball over the corner of the plate and [the umpire] wasn’t calling it. They’re a very predictable team; I think we could have beaten them. But if the umpire didn’t give them the outside pitch, then where do you have to throw the ball? Inside, and that was against us.”

The Punishers began the tournament with a 4-2 loss to the (San Diego) Power Surge last Friday afternoon as both runs were scored in the bottom of the fourth inning. With one out, Rodriguez singled and Cienfuegos was walked. Then with two outs, Wyatt reached on an error allowing Rodriguez and Cienfuegos to come home.

Last summer, the Punishers went 4-2 in the Arizona Qualifier, winning the first two before being dropped to the loser’s bracket. Then in the So Cal Qualifier, the Punishers won their first game and after losing the next game, won two straight in the loser’s bracket. Still, the team played in the PGF National Championships. Last weekend’s qualifier was the first chance the Punishers had this summer.

“We have a younger group [this year], so I think that’s different,” Medina said. “Last year we had a bunch of seniors and I think we had senioritis. This year we have young kids who are under pressure; maybe cracking a little bit. But overall, we have a great team and I believe that they can make a good impact in PGF. That’s why we’re still going for it.”

The Punishers will attempt to get an automatic berth when they compete in the Las Vegas Qualifier this weekend. At stake will be two berths to the Premier Division and two more to the Platinum Division. Even if the Punishers don’t qualify this weekend, Medina feels there is still a 50-50 chance his team will be playing in the PGF National Championships.

“We’ll go after it, we’ll play and we’ll play our heart out,” Medina said. “This team is put together for scholarships. It’s not put together for a championship. If it was a championship [team], I would do what the team we just played does and recruit all of the kids who already have full ride scholarships to big schools and it would be that team.

“We played [the So Cal
A’s] very well and all of them have big scholarships,” he continued. “We don’t fear them. If we were looking to win a national championship, then the pressure is on us. It’s like we have to win a national championship or nothing because nothing else matters. But we are into a scholarship program and we just had a girl verbal last week. So we’re still going at it. Every girl on our team will get a scholarship.”