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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP : Artesia Punishers 18-Under squad on a hot roll, moves into championship game of bracket

SECONDS AFTER this photo was taken, Artesia Punishers 18-Under shortstop Stephanie Jimenez (Santa Fe High, Weatherford College) hits a go-ahead three-run home run against the (Ogden, UT) Mountain West this past Tuesday at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship. The Punishers would hold on for a 5-4 win. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

FOUNTAIN VALLEY-The Premier Girls Fastpitch organization formed in 2010 and never had any of the Artesia Punishers 18-Under teams gotten off to as hot of a start as this past week. Since this past Monday morning, the Punishers have won all four of their games in the Platinum Division’s Bracket A.

Considering that the Punishers won a combined four games in the past two PGF National Championships, it’s safe to say this will be the best finish for head coach Bob Medina no matter what happens on July 26.

“Every time I talk about it, I tell you the same thing,” Medina said. “This is the best of the best in the United States and that’s what it is. They don’t travel this far to compete at this level unless they put in their time. And I believe our team has been competitive enough to get this far. It’s just trying to prepare them, and I think we did that this year.”

The Punishers won a pair of tight games this past Wednesday, first edging the Chicago Cheetahs 3-1 in the morning, then taking care of the (Rio Rancho) New Mexico Sundancers 9-3 later in the afternoon at Fountain Valley Sports Park.

Against the Cheetahs, both teams were stymied by excellent pitching as the game was scoreless through the first four innings. Pitcher DeAndria Lockett (Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, Marymount College) had allowed two hits and walked one while striking out four among the first 14 batters she faced while Dayton Elliot had given up four hits over the same time. But in the top the fifth inning, the Punishers broke the ice.

Center fielder Samantha Mancillas (Santa Fe High, Monroe College) led off with a single to left field and an out later, first baseman Jessi Alvarado (Gahr High, Manhattanville College) singled to right. But when the ball got past the right fielder, Mancillas raced all the way home.

 

 

 

ARTESIA PUNISHER 18-Under center fielder Samantha Mancillas (Santa Fe High, Monroe College) safely advances to third base on a wild pitch in the bottom of the second inning against the (Rio Rancho) New Mexico Sundancers this past Wednesday at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship. The Punishers remained undefeated in the Platinum Division Bracket A with a 9-3 victory. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

The Cheetahs, who had won their first two playoff games by a combined score of 17-5, tied the game in their half of the inning when Jennifer Krizka singled and came home on a sacrifice fly from Tory Meyer. But the Punishers bounced back in the seventh and it began with Mancillas smashing a solo home run over the centerfield fence. After second baseman Yamila Evans (San Marino High, Siena College) was walked, Alvarado laid down a bunt to to move her over. But an errant throw allowed Evans to score the final run.

“The interchangeable parts of the lineup and stuff like that…we’re always messing with that,” Medina said. “We’re always trying to get somebody to fire them up. We have a lot of seniors on here and they’re all doing it deep down inside from their heart. Jessi is a phenomenal player and I can have her hit; I have a lot of confidence in her hit.”

Lockett worked the first three innings before Evans replaced her. Kristen Lucas (Roosevelt High, Butler College) was asked to get the save, but was replaced by Lockett with no outs and runners on second and third. Lockett proceeded to get a groundout and strike out the final two batters of the game.

“I looked at Dee and Dee was having a little bit of trouble finding the strike zone,” Medina said of the first pitching change. “If anything, I felt that Dee just needed some rest. She’s doing a great job. I have no problem going with Yami at any point at any time of the game.”

It would be another challenging game when the Punishers met a familiar opponent. Back in 2004, the Punishers beat the Sundancers in the Amateur Softball Association Western Regionals in Sacramento. Pitching for the Punishers in what would be a blowout win was Medina’s daughter, Michelle, who was a St. Joseph High standout. Fourteen years later, the two programs with the same coaches would meet again and after a back and forth game through the first four innings, the Punishers blew the game open with a six-run fifth inning.

Lockett would get the start again, her fourth straight. But two batters in, she was hit just below the left eye on a hard shot from Victoria Reyes which eventually went for an out. Evans replaced her and in the bottom of the first, Alvarado reached on a fielder’s choice and came home on a base hit from shortstop Stephanie Jimenez (Santa Fe High, Weatherford College).

The Sundancers scored twice in the second on run scoring singles from Ramsay Lopez and Bella Mendoza, but the Punishers regained the lead in the third when left fielder Samantha Noriega (Carson High) was hit by a pitch and Jimenez was walked. Two outs later, the bases were loaded when designated player Alexis Lopez (Los Osos High, Mitchell College) was hit by a pitch. On the next pitch, right fielder Destiny Munoz (Santa Fe High, Montreat College) doubled in two runs. After the Sundancers tied the game in the next inning, the Punishers had their best inning of the summer.

The big hits of the frame came when Mancillas and Noriega each doubled in runs, then Jimenez singled in a pair followed by a two-run home run from third baseman Alizah Ayon (Santa Fe High, University of Rochester). The Punishers would collect 10 hits with Noriega and Jimenez each going three for three. Evans scattered five hits and struck out a pair in just over five innings of work.

The Punishers began the playoffs with a late come from behind 5-3 victory over the (Albuquerque) Mizuno Storm Beach this past Monday morning. Trailing 3-2 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning, Sierra Sandoval (San Pedro High) tied the game with a home run over the left center fence. Then with one out, Lopez and Munoz each singled and came home on a two-out base hit from Alvarado.

 

 

FIRST BASE Jessi Alvarado (Gahr High, Manhattanville College) of the Artesia Punishers 18-Under travel softball team scores the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning against the (Rio Rancho) New Mexico Sundancers at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship this past Wednesday. The Punishers won 9-3.PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer.

 

The Mizuno Storm grabbed a 1-0 lead after half an inning and it remained that way until the bottom of the fifth when Lopez singled to lead off the frame. After two quick outs, Evans drove her in with a double and came home on a double from Alvarado. The star of the game was Lockett, who went six innings, scattered five hits and struck out six while walking one.

“The girls kept coming back, coming back; they never gave up,” Medina said. “The energy was there. The energy that we have in the dugout, even on the field…we have everybody in the dugout screaming at the top of their lungs. And not only that, I hear the girls in the field screaming at the top of their lungs. So, everybody is in. When I see that, I look at my assistant coach Ed [Blanck], who has been with me forever, and I sit there and say, ‘that’s good stuff right there. That’s stuff you can’t teach’. They’ve done it throughout this tournament and I believe that’s what is lifting them up from above, being able to play and get to this point.”

The Punishers would rally for another victory when they met the (Ogden, UT) Mountain West this past Tuesday afternoon. This time, it was a two out, three-run home run from Jimenez in the bottom of the third that gave the squad a 4-2 lead. The Punishers then added on in the next inning and held on for a 5-4 victory.

Lockett was once again phenomenal in the circle, going into the seventh inning, throwing 136 pitches, striking out a dozen while yielding seven hits. Evans came in to face three batters to get her second straight save.

“DeAndria is a great pitcher and she always has been,” Medina said. “Being on our team for the first year, we knew how to deal with her. I always try to get people’s personalities and stuff like that. We try to make sure they’re on target. We know how to push Dee and we know how to motivate Dee. She’s doing a phenomenal job.”

Lopez singled in Jimenez with two outs to give the Punishers a 1-0 lead in the second. After the Mountain West scored twice in the top of the third on a double from Kylie Baumert, Siera Horton walked Evans with out in the bottom of the frame. Alvarado sacrificed her over and went to third when Noriega was safe on an error. Four pitches later, Jimenez put the Punishers in the lead for good.

Anessa Quiroz (San Pedro High, Monroe College), who replaced Sandoval in center, led off the fifth with a single to left, went to second on a wild pitch, advance to third on a sacrifice from Lopez and scored on the next pitch when Munoz singled to left. The run proved important as the Mountain West scored in the fifth and seventh to make it interesting. The Punishers got seven hits from seven different players.

The Punishers began pool play action last Saturday afternoon with a 6-5 loss to the (Puyallup) Washington Majestics 6-5, then fell to the (Anaheim) Monarchs 5-2 and the Las Vegas Lil’ Rebels Gordie 4-2 this past Sunday morning. The Punishers would total 14 hits in the three games.

The Punishers faced the (Elk Grove) Firecrackers North in the championship game of the bracket on the morning of July 26 with a chance to face the winner of Bracket B later in the night at Deanna Manning Stadium for the championship of the division.

 

 

 

 

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