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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
Manager: Bob Medina
Assistant coaches: Ed Blanck, Deann Medina, Tim Rivera
ROSTER (returning players in bold type, recent graduate in italics)
Pool play games (all on Field 5 at Fountain Valley Sports Park)
Saturday, July 23, 3:45 p.m. vs. Las Vegas Rage Gold Team Mizuno
Sunday, July 24, 8:30 a.m. vs. (Downey) USA Athletics-Mike Mora
Sunday, July 24, 10:10 a.m. vs. (Farmingdale, NJ) Jersey Intensity KOD Mizuno
First of double elimination bracket games: Monday, July 25
Opening ceremonies: Monday, July 25, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at Huntington Beach Central Park
Second of double elimination bracket games: Tuesday, July 26
Championship game for Platinum Division: Friday, July 29th, 8:30 a.m. at Deanna Manning Stadium, Colonel Bill Barber Park, Irvine
HISTORY OF ARTESIA PUNISHERS GOLD TEAMS AT THE PGF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP (Double elimination playoff games only)
Lost 6-1 to the (Hillsboro) Oregon Thunder
Lost 9-7 to the (Chandler) Arizona Hotshots
Lost 5-4 to the Salinas Storm
Lost 5-2 to the (West Hills) Southern California 3D
Lost10-7 to the (Salem, OR) Northwest Batbusters
Lost 6-5 to the (Sugarland, TX) Aces Express
The Artesia Punishers 18 Gold travel softball team will be making its fourth straight appearance in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship. But unlike the previous three trips, the Punishers will be seeing their first win in the double elimination bracket games, having gone two and out in 2013, 2014 and 2015. This season, the Punishers are built with a hodgepodge of veteran players who have played in the aforementioned PGF National Championship games, as well as some younger players who have been gaining valuable experience over the past several months.
“This year is nice; we have a team that we’ve built for a couple of years,” said manager Bob Medina. “We expect to do well [at Nationals] and that’s what we’re looking forward to.
“Every year we’re adding kids for our next year,” Medina continued. “We’re starting to recruit now. So we’re trying to put them together. The ones that we were trying to put together for this year, we had to give up a little because we only had a few seniors. But this year, everyone is onboard and it looks like everybody is healthy and it’s a surprise to me.”
This hasn’t been a normal summer by Medina’s standards as he has not had a full complement of his team, or even half of his team at times. Four of his veteran players-Toshonnie Baker, Veronica Garcia, Lauren Sabihon and Alexis Sargent-were part of the North Torrance High squad that won a California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Division IV championship and had to miss several PGF Qualifier games because of that, as well as school celebration obligations. Other senior players also missed some PGF Qualifier games because of senior functions from their respective schools. But now, Medina has his entire team together for probably the first time in a while.
“If you have all of your older players together and all of the players that we need…we do have a younger team and that younger team was with us,” Medina said. “I think the team that we have on the field now is the one that we’re going to go with.”
The pitching staff will be anchored by veterans Leah Gonzales and Jackie Vargas, both of whom have had experience playing for Medina’s team at the PGF National Championship, as well as a pair of young, but ready to go hurlers in Yamila Evans, Brianna Garrett and Quincy Greenwood.
“We’re loaded there because we have Leah, we have Bri, we have Jackie, we have Yami and we have Quincy,” Medina said. “We have the depth and some of them are young and some of them are older. The older ones are not going to get as flustered; the younger ones will. I feel very confident.”
The infield is one of the best that Medina has fielded with Baker at third base, Summer Bodkin at shortstop, Alexxis Ponce at second and Shayna Dahlen, Veronica Garcia or Gonzales at first, depending on who is pitching. Dahlen could also see some time behind the plate. This will be the third straight trip to the PGF National Championship for Baker and Ponce.
The same can be said for Sabihon, who will most likely patrol centerfield. Sargent will be in left field while right field is up for grabs right now, according to Medina. Last year, the Punishers 18 Gold team had half a dozen players who were returning to the PGF National Championship. This year, there are 12 returning players.
“They’ve already been to Nationals’ they’ve been flustered,” Medina said of his veteran crew. “They have something to prove. It took us two years to get them to this point and last year maybe wasn’t the team. This year is the team because they’re more mature and older. All of them understand the way we play softball. So, it’s going to be very fortunate for us.”
As for the younger players, Medina said the biggest improvements over the past several months have been Vargas, for her pitching, and Evans and Alexis Lopez for their hitting. Medina is hoping to win his second national championship. The first came back in 2007 when his squad won the Amateur Softball Association ’18-A’ National Championship, losing just one pool play game and going undefeated in the bracket portion.
“Everybody’s ultimate goal is to win the whole thing,” Medina said. “You don’t go in there to say, ‘hey, we just want to go three games and we’re good’. We’re going to compete with everybody there and what I want to accomplish is to work hard and play hard against every team. It would be nice to qualify this year [for next year’s National Championships] so that we can build a team for next year.”
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