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By Loren Kopff
Coming off a strong performance in the Southern California Summer Sunsational Tournament last weekend in Lancaster, winning four of five games played and outscoring its opponents 29-7, the Artesia Punishers 14-Under travel softball team, coached by Danny Guerrero, is by far one of the hottest teams in that age group around. Now, the Punishers are hoping to end the summer with even a stronger performance in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships.
The Punishers are one of 68 teams in the Premier Division with another 36 teams in the Platinum Division of the 14-Under age group to invade Bill Barber Park in Irvine, Fountain Valley Sports Park, Harvard Park in Irvine Park and the Huntington Beach Sports Complex Sunday through Aug. 9. Another 68 teams in the Premier Division and 36 teams in the Platinum Division of the 16-Under age group will also vie for a national title.
Here is a quick look at the Artesia Punishers 14-Under team, making its third straight appearance in the PGF National Championships.
Head coach: Danny Guerrero
Assistant coaches: Sam Dumlao, Nadal Habash, Steve Lew, Gary Loe
ROSTER (returning players in bold type)
1. Anyssa Ortega 2B/OF La Mirada High School
2. Haylie Montoya C/UT Heights Christian Junior High School
3. Jessi Alvarado 1B/UT Gahr High School
8. Merissa Millette OF/2B Kennedy High School
13. Jazzmynn Loe P/1B/OF Los Alamitos High School
21. Kendall Henscheid P/1B Huntington Beach High School
22. Angelina Dumlao OF Griffith Junior High School
23. Marissa Garza C/3B North Torrance High School
24. Alicia Lopez C/3B Deer Park (TX) High School
25. Pacy Villa 2B/OF Martin Luther King High School
27. Erica Guerrero P/UT Kennedy High School
28. Roxanne Habash C/3B Kennedy High School
42. Danielle Lew 2B/OF Los Alamitos High School
55. Karina Ibarra SS/3B Lakewood High School
66. Rebecca Chung C/1B/3B West Torrance High School
91.Kayla Gutierrez CF La Mirada High School
PREMIER DIVISION SCHEDULE
Pool play games at Harvard Park, Field #1
Sun. Aug. 2 vs. (Rancho Penasquitos) Epoch 8:00
Sun. Aug. 2 vs. (Tucson) AZ Thundercats 11:40
Mon. Aug. 3 vs. (Frisco)TX American Freedom Prospects 8:00
Mon. Aug. 3 Opening ceremonies @ Huntington Beach Central Park 5:00-7:00
Tues. Aug. 4-Sat. Aug. 8 Playoff games (TBA)
Sun. Aug. 9 Championship game @ Deanna Manning Stadium, Bill Barber Park 11:00
Since the season began last September, the Punishers have been ready for any type of competition that has stood in front of them, including 16-Under teams. Guerrero, who has coached in the Artesia Punishers organization for five years, beginning with a 10-Under team, has won two PGF Southern California Qualifiers in the past three years and finished in ninth place in the PGF National Championships two years ago and fifth place last summer. In addition, he took second place in the 2013 Amateur Softball Association state tournament, qualified for the ASA ‘A’ National Championships in 2011, 2013 and 2014 and finished in fifth place in the Triple Crown Sports Nationals in 2011, 2013 and 2014.
“So far the summer has been going really well,” Guerrero said. “We started out this year playing up in the 16-U level. We did some of the bigger showcases at the 14-U level just because they asked us to. But we’ve done tournaments at the 16-U level and we’ve actually won some tournaments at that level. We wanted to play up because of our girls going into high school.
“It’s a little bit of a different ballgame when you’re playing up in the 16’s and 18’s level just because they have more confidence and experience and they run different plays and they go after different situations, where the younger teams are more cautious,” Guerrero continued. “We really like to put that into perspective. We wanted to get the team prepared the best way we could and we felt that this was the way to go.”
The pitching staff is one of the best in this age group and it begins with Kendall Henscheid, who has the ability to throw every inning of every tournament, but doesn’t. Henscheid has been the team’s ace for three years now with Erica Guerrero as a solid No. 2 hurler. If you need a left-handed specialist, then Jazzmynn Loe provides that aspect to the team, and she induces a ton of ground ball outs. None of the three pitchers get rattled easy and if the offense scores early and often, then opponents will find a hard time coming back.
“She has been with me for three years and she’s been great all three years,” Danny Guerrero said of Henscheid. “She’s been a solid pitcher and she has great control. That’s the one thing about all three of our pitchers, is that we don’t give up very many walks. They all have different aspects of their game.
“Kendall is a workhorse; she can pitch lots of games in a row,” he continued. “She has different types of pitches where she works from up and down, which gives her a lot of strikeouts. Erica is a little bit more of a power pitcher. She gets a lot of pop-ups and rise balls. The difference between Erica and Kendall is that Kendall has a little bit more control on her off speed pitches. She can really mix it up really good.”
The catching duties will be held down by Punisher veteran Rebecca Chung as well as Marissa Garza, who was recently picked up from the Firecrackers organization. Garza, though, played for the Punishers last summer. Like Chung, Garza has a strong arm and bat.
“Becca has a very strong arm behind the plate,” Danny Guerrero said. “She’s very focused behind the plate. She also has a big bat. She’s very confident behind the plate and a lot of teams don’t steal on her because of her strong arm.”
Jessi Alvarado patrols first base and according to Danny Guerrero, is ‘one of the best defensive first baseman’s at this age group’. He adds that she has great control of her feet and catches everything that goes her way. Danielle Lew occupies second base with Pacy Villa as her backup. Since the season began last fall, Villa has been the team’s second leading hitter with a .381 average while Lew is right behind her at .379. Both are solid, can move side to side well and are great hitters. At shortstop is Karina Ibarra, a Punishers member for three years.
“She pretty much has been money for us all season long and she just has that quickness and that great athletic ability you want out of a shortstop,” Danny Guerrero said of Ibarra. “She’s just a natural shortstop.”
Third baseman Alicia Lopez is another recent addition to the team. Danny Guerrero met her in Colorado a few weeks ago when the team was in the Triple Crown Sports World Series. Lopez comes from the Texas Impact Gold, one of the biggest organizations around, and was on National Team for the Texas Impact. Lopez replaces Roxanne Habash, who fell ill at the beginning of the summer and has not played since then. A solid third baseman, Habash has been with Danny Guerrero for five years.
Villa will hold down left field for the majority of the time and has a cannon of an arm. With the exception of the new additions, Villa is the youngest player on the team. Erica Guerrero and Loe will split time in center while Merissa Millette and Anyssa Ortega will handle right field. Another outfielder, Kayla Gutierrez, was also recently added to the team and is a slapper with a lot of speed. She too has a strong arm and is quick to the ball.
Danny Guerrero lists hitting and pitching as his team’s strength while the only weakness seems to be with the mental game.
“When we’re not mentally prepared and just sort of tired and getting upset about some errors and just not feeling right, I think that we hurt ourselves a lot by getting down on ourselves,” Danny Guerrero said.
“I think this team right here is the strongest it has ever been,” Danny Guerrero later said. “I think that we have a great chance this year, especially since the local people know us. They know what they expect from playing us. The advantage that we have is a lot of the out of state teams have no clue about us. We’ve beaten a lot of the favorites and we’ve been beaten by a lot of the big favorites.”
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