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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
IRVINE-The Artesia Punishers 16-Under travel softball team already knows it will be playing in the Triple Crown Sports World Series in Park City, Utah next month. After failing to qualify for the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship at the Northern California Fresno Qualifier the weekend of June 10-12, the team was hoping for better results in the Southern California Qualifier last weekend.
But the team fell into an offensive funk last Friday afternoon and lost to the (San Marcos) Southern California Breakers 5-1 at Bill Barber Park. The Punishers were then eliminated by the (San Diego) Epoch 5-4 the next morning.
“We started off really bad in Fresno and finished off really well,” said Punishers manager Armando Canizales. “But we’re not healthy with our bats. We need to get our bats going. I just think it’s the maturity level right now. I think at this age group, you’re either an athlete or there’s too many things going on in your personal life that you have to worry about.”
In Fresno, the Punishers went 2-2 and scored seven runs in the two victories, but were outscored 6-2 in the two losses. Against the So Cal Breakers, the Punishers found themselves down 2-0 after half an inning before striking back in the bottom of the first. Center fielder Amanda Canizales (Whittier High) reached on a fielder’s choice, moved to second on a base hit from third baseman Savannah Flinn (Beaumont High) and came home on a base hit from first baseman Kylee Perryman (Millikan High).
After that, the bats went relatively silent. The Punishers would collect four more hits the rest of the way and had a total of five base runners over the final six innings. The best chance to score came in the fourth when right fielder DeAndria Lockett (Hawthorne Math and Science Academy) doubled to the centerfield fence with one out and catcher Nikki Aldecoa reached on an infield single with two outs.
“I just felt the lack of athleticism with the players…for them to press and feel the pressure to play, I just don’t see it,” Armando Canizales said. “I think that’s one of the hardest things to coach. That goes within you being an athlete and not being an athlete.”
The Breakers would put more pressure on pitcher Rachel Rubio (Millikan High) in the second and third innings by scoring three runs, two of which were solo home runs from Bella Chadwell and Rachel Wilson. But after Shelby Smith doubled after seeing eight pitches, Armando Canizales made a pitching change, bringing in Kirsten Hernandez (Lakewood High). In five innings of work, Hernandez allowed a two-out single to Gabrielle Russell, which plated Smith, and a two-out single in the seventh.
“I think Rachel was a little bit shaken up, a little nervous about the whole situation of getting the start,” Canizales said. “Her curveball wasn’t working; it was staying up. Most of her pitches were staying up and that was the biggest problem.
“[Kirsten] has been like that all year long,” he added. “She comes off as a middle reliever and has been awesome with her control. It was hit and miss. Maybe we could have been down two runs, change the whole outlook of the game.”
The Punishers got out to a big start against the Epoch last Saturday morning, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. However, the Epoch responded with four runs in the top of the third before the Punishers tied the game in their half of the inning. But the Epoch pushed across the winning run in the fifth and held on for a 5-4 win. The Punishers collected nine hits with Perryman getting a pair. Now, the team will get tons of practice in preparation for the Triple Crown Sports World Series, which will be played July 11-16.
“We were fortunate with that invitation,” Armando Canizales said. “[But] when you come to PGF, you have to be in top notch [condition]. You can’t be guessing. It takes a lot of work.”
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