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Artesia Punishers 18 Gold squad hope third time is charm at PGF National Championships

By Loren Kopff

For the next two weeks, the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships will take center stage and the first of two Artesia Punisher squads participating in the event will be in action. The Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team will be one of 124 teams from that age group, spanning two divisions, which will occupy the eight fields at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex, seven fields at the Fountain Valley Sports Park and one of seven fields at Harvard Athletic Park in Irvine this weekend. The 32 10-Under teams and 52 12-Under teams will also vie for a championship with their first three games being played at Harvard Athletic Park as well as Bill Barber Park in Irvine.

Here is a quick look at the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team, which will be making its third straight appearance in the PGF National Championships.

COACHING STAFF

Head coach: Bob Medina

Assistant coaches: Ed Blanck, Deann Medina, Tim Rivera

ROSTER (returning players in bold type)

  1. Breanna Larez 1B/OF El Rancho High School
  2. Raquel Manzo 1B/3B/OF La Habra High School/Felician College
  3. Leah Gonzales P/1B Banning High School
  4. Alexis Weekes IF Lakewood High School/Calif. State Univ., Monterey Bay
  5. Toshonnie Baker SS/OF North Torrance High School
  6. Hailey Hoffman P/OF Lakewood High School
  7. Alexxis Ponce C/SS Santa Fe High School/Portland State University
  8. Kayla Hemni OF South Torrance High School/Chaminade University
  9. Monica Rodriguez C/3B/SS Banning High School/Notre Dame de Namur University
  10. Taylor Escobar C Whittier Christian High School/Grand Canyon University
  11. Summer Bodkin 2B/SS Banning High School
  12. Isabel Sanchez OF Alhambra High School
  13. Jessica Delgado OF El Rancho High School/Manhattanville College
  14. Logan Miller 2B/SS Lakewood High School
  15. Mia Wyatt 3B/IF/OF West Torrance High School
  16. Lauren Sabihon OF North Torrance High School
  17. Cayman Hunter 1B/3B Santa Monica High School/Occidental College
  18. Jackie Vargas P Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School
  19. Jasmine Higa OF Apple Valley High School/Monmouth University
  20. Alexis Sargent OF North Torrance High School
  21. Alissa Cienfuegos P/OF Carson High School/Odessa College

PLATINUM DIVISION    SCHEDULE

Pool play games at Harvard Park, Field #3

Sat. July 25 vs. Birmingham Thunderbolts                                                                  5:30

Sun. July 26 vs. (Mesa) AZ Killer Bees                                                                      3:20

Sun. July 26 vs. (Long Beach) So Cal Jets                                                                7:00

Mon. July 27    TBA (first playoff game)

Mon. July 27    Opening ceremonies @ Huntington Beach Central Park                     5:00-7:00

Tues. July 28-Fri. July 31        Playoff games

Sat. Aug. 1      Championship game @ Deanna Manning Stadium, Bill Barber Park 8:00

This is the sixth year that the PGF has been in existence and the fifth time that a Bob Medina-coached Artesia Punishers team has played in at least one of several PGF qualifiers, hoping to clinch an automatic berth in either the Premier or Platinum Division. But this is the third straight summer that the Punishers 18 Gold team has been invited to participate in the last major tournament if the summer.

“Every year they invite people and they invite teams that are above other teams and I think we’re probably one of the better teams in the area,” Medina said. “So, I wouldn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t invite us. They want competition; they want the best competition. So that’s what I think the reason why we’re getting invited.”

In 2013, Medina’s team did not earn the automatic berth from the Southern California or Las Vegas qualifiers. That team ended up tied for 33rd place out of 68 teams and went 1-2 in pool play action, which has no bearing on the double elimination playoff portion. Then the team lost its first playoff game before winning the next, then falling in the third game.

Last summer, the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team went 3-2 in the Southern California qualifier, 1-2 in pool play action of the PGF National Championships before going two and out in the playoffs. Last month, the team went 1-2 in the Southern California qualifier and 2-2 in the Las Vegas qualifier. While Medina is looking to secure is second national championship (he won the 2007 Amateur Softball Association ‘A’ National Championship), he has always said it’s more about getting the players noticed and signed to a college or university.

“It’s all [about] scholarships,” Medina said. “We probably diminish all of our energy and time on running the scholarships and getting the kids signed. That’s our main purpose now. Winning the national championship…there are so many great teams out there, there really are. Some of them are being funded by other people and there’s no money down. So you’re getting all of the quality kids and some of them are getting kids who are verballed, then they put these teams together and they’re all going to Division I schools. It’s going to be tough to compete against that stuff.”

Medina, whose 18 Gold team also won the 2012 Triple Crown Sports Sparkler Pikes Peak Division tournament in Westminster, CO after outscoring its six playoff opponents by a combined score of 56-10, has seen his 2015 team compete in several other showcase tournaments since the end of May, including the popular Zoom Into June tournament.

“I think the team is doing really good,” Medina said. “I think we learned a lot. It’s really nice to get the kids to compete again and I think they’re at that level right now.”

The team has four solid pitchers-Alissa Cienfuegos, Leah Gonzales, Hailey Hoffman and Jackie Vargas. The first three just wrapped up their high school junior seasons while Vargas recently completed her freshman campaign. Vargas is also the youngest player on the team with the other players either having just graduated, or will graduate in 2016. Only Hoffman is a returning hurler, but any of the four are capable of being the team’s No. 1 pitcher.

“I’ve had several coaches from Division I schools come by and they’ve said, ‘you have probably the strongest pitching that I’ve seen that is still available by far’,” Medina said. “Each kid is pitching about 61 miles an hour, 59-60 miles an hour. They have pretty good control, they’re right there and I think they’re ready. The pitching staff is going to be solid. Everybody walks in there with one good pitcher. We walk in there with four and I’m not going out from that. I get them all back next year. They’re all going to be seniors and they should all be verballed.”

Taylor Escobar, Alexiss Ponce and Monica Rodriguez will handle the duties behind the plate with the latter two getting the bulk of the action this summer.

“Taylor comes up with a good strong arm,” Medina said. “She has a sense of good presence out there behind the plate. Monica, a shortstop and catcher, has a good strong arm and has been catching for us for a couple of years. Ponce has a good strong arm [and is a shortstop]. It gives us the versatility of putting a shortstop at any position.”

The infield is one of the best that Medina has had, anchored by Toshonnie Baker, Summer Bodkin, Cayman Hunter, Raquel Manzo, Logan Miller and Monica Rodriguez, among others.

“The infielders I have are really good and year after year we talk to the kids and we always tell them about being a part of the solution and not the problem,” Medina said. “They all are the solution. I have eight shortstops, including Logan, but we move them over to second base, we move them over to first base and put them in the outfield. Good athletes are what we’re looking for.”

Again, everyone is interchangeable and can play multiple positions but the main outfielders consist of Jessica Delgado, Kayla Hemni, Jasmine Higa, Lauren Sabihon, Isabel Sanchez and Alexis Sargent, among others.

“What’s cool with the outfield is I have real legit outfielders,” Medina said. “They come from the left side depending if we need someone to hit from the left side or if we need someone to hit from the right side, if we power, if we need bunters. They have such good talent and versatility.”

Medina says that his hitting is the team’s number one strength and is capable of putting together big innings In three games played at Artesia Park on June 14, the Punishers pounded out 28 hits. As far as any weaknesses, Medina said the only one that his team has faced has been in the form of bad calls from the umpires.

“I think the team is all together,” Medina said. “I think they like each other, they play for each other and they fight for each other. That being said, I think this team can go at least four games and send a message, if not win the whole thing. If we’re on fire, we’re just as good, if not better than all of the other teams. We’ve played all of the teams that are qualifying and we’re better than them.”

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