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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
FOUNTAIN VALLEY-For the older travel softball teams, it usually takes until the first weekend of June to get the entire team together as some of the players are still with their respective high schools, making a deep run in the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs. The Artesia Punishers Gold team is no different than any other team and through the first two weekends of the summer season, it hasn’t had its full squad.
Last weekend, the Punishers competed in the Surf City Summer Kickoff and after winning their pool last Saturday, they split a pair of games this past Sunday in the single elimination playoffs at the Fountain Valley Sports Complex. A lack of offense was the story against the (San Marcos) Southern California Breakers and the Punishers fell 5-1 in a quarterfinal game. The Punishers, who played with 10 players this past Sunday, were limited to one hit until the top of the sixth when center fielder Lauren Sabihon (North Torrance High/Siena College) doubled with one out and scored on a double from her high school teammate, shortstop Toshonnie Baker (University of Hawai’i, Hilo).
“Actually we were fortunate enough to have some of our girls back,” said Punishers assistant coach Ed Blanck. “With CIF championships done yesterday, our North Torrance girls came back. That’s how dedicated [they are] and they wanted to play and they came back and helped us out a great deal.”
Hannah Bailey of the Breakers pitched the first three innings of no-hit ball and her lone blemish was hitting pitcher Yamila Evans (St. Monica Academy) with one out in the top of the third. The Punishers were still held without a hit until designated player Alexis Lopez (Los Osos High) popped-up in front of home plate and beat out an infield single. After moving to second on a wild pitch, she would be stranded there.
The best offensive performance of the tournament came prior to the game against the Breakers when the Punishers had seven hits against the (Temecula) Fury and held on for a 5-3 victory. After the Fury struck in the top of the first inning with a two-run home run from Day’mian Johnson, Baker responded with a two-run shot of her own in the bottom half of the inning.
The Punishers would tack on two more runs in the second and it began with left fielder Crystal Carillo (Warren High/Odessa College) being safe on an infield single. Pitcher Brianna Garrett (Quartz Hill High/Siena College) then had an infield single and two outs later, Carillo came home on an infield knock from second baseman Alexxis Ponce (Santa Fe High/Portland State University).
On the very next pitch, Sabihon, fresh off a CIF championship along with Baker, Veronica Garcia and Alexis Sargent, singled to left field to drive in Garrett. The Fury got one run back in the third, but the Punishers added an insurance run in the fourth when Ponce, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, scored on a wild pitch.
Last Saturday, the Punishers tied the Fury 3-3 and the (Upland) Pastime 1-1 on a combined 11 hits from 11 different players before edging the (Buena Park) Orange County Firecrackers 1-0 on just one hit.
“I’m pretty confident in our offense that way and we think an offense wins games,” Blanck said. “Our hitting had to adjust to the pitching that really wasn’t that top quality pitching, because a lot of their pitchers were still playing high school. The pitching was slower than what we’re used to and we had to make quick adjustments.”
Against the Firecrackers, a team mostly made up of a former Artesia Punishers 14-Under team coached by Danny Guerrero which has moved up to 16-Under status, Allison Gardiner was throwing a no-hitter until the top of the seventh inning. She walked Garrett before third baseman Mia Wyatt (West Torrance High/Azusa Pacific University) moved her over on a sacrifice. Evans then singled and on the play, Garrett came home on an error. Meanwhile, Garrett would toss a no-hitter, striking out six, walking three and not allowing a runner to get to third.
The performance last weekend was a far cry from the prior weekend when the Punishers lost their only two games played in the Premier Girls Fastpitch Arizona Qualifier. The Punishers were slammed by the Mike Mora-coached (Downey) USA Athletics, 14-4 on May 28, then were eliminated later that day by the (Phoenix) AZ Bombers 6-0.
“The big difference on that was we didn’t have our team with us,” Blanck said. “We had our future team with us and we were doing a lot more teaching than playing the game to win, or qualify.”
Next up for the Punishers will be the prestigious Zoom Into June Tournament, hosted by Triple Crown Sports. Just in the 18-Under age group alone, there will be 129 teams that will invade multiple facilities throughout the Inland Empire. The Punishers will have one game tonight, two on Saturday and two more on Sunday.
Another Artesia Punishers 18-Under team, this one based out of Mira Loma and coached by Dave Lindsay, as well as the Artesia Punishers 14-Under team out of Highland, will also partake in the tournament. The Zoom Into June Tournament is mostly a showcase tournament where a plethora of college coaches will be on hand. It will also be a tune-up for the following week when the Punishers will compete in the PGF Southern California Qualifier.
“We’re going to be preparing for PGF,” Blanck said. “We’re going to concentrate on that but we still have a few girls that are looking for that scholarship and we’ll showcase them. We’ll pick up a few girls from the other 18-Under team and use them. But basically, we’re getting ready for PGF.”
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