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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP Artesia Punishers 18-Under team capture third place at PGF National Championship

The 2018 Artesia Punishers 18-Under travel softball team captured third place in the Platinum Division of the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship last Thursday at Fountain Valley Sports Park and have earned an automatic berth in next year’s PGF National Championship. Photo by Loren Kopff.

 

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

FOUNTAIN VALLEY-Longtime Artesia Punishers 18-Under head coach Bob Medina admitted he didn’t know that his team had already clinched an automatic berth to the Platinum Division of the 2019 Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship before finishing the 2018 event. In fact, following the team’s 7-2 loss to the [Long Beach] USA Athletics last Thursday afternoon at the Fountain Valley Sports Park, he was immediately handed the trophy for claiming third place in the Platinum Division.

Entering last Thursday’s action, six teams remained out of 64 in the division with the winner to get the automatic berth to next season’s Premier Division while the other five getting a pass to the Platinum Division. Four of those teams, including the Punishers, were undefeated and even though they lost two of three games last Thursday in the double elimination tournament, they still managed to have their best finish in any major end of the summer tournament since winning the Amateur Softball Association 2007 18-Under ‘A’ National Championship.

“I was under the impression that maybe the top two [get a trophy], and I know that in a tournament of high caliber of play, it’s tough to do,” Medina said. “So, when [the tournament representative] came up to me and gave me the trophy, and he came over and said, ‘congratulations, you have a berth for next year’, I was like, ‘whoa’. That’s what I was surprised about. The trophy was fine, but I knew where we stood and I thought, we might have missed the berth by one.”

The Punishers began last Thursday by facing the (Elk Grove) Firecrackers North-Thomas, a team they had played and beat in the Orange County Coastal Classic the weekend of Jan. 27-28 where they won all six games played. But almost immediately after the game started, things went south when pitcher DeAndria Lockett (Hawthorne Math and Science Academy, Marymount University), who was still feeling the effects from the previous day when she got hit just under the left eye on a line drive, walked a pair of hitters and gave up a hit four batters into the game. She was replaced by Yamila Evans (San Marino High, Siena College) who then gave up three runs in the top of the second inning. Eventually, the Punishers would lose 9-2 as they were limited to five hits.

Medina felt the team was deflated after Lockett’s injury against (Rio Rancho) New Mexico Sundancers and added that he didn’t feel Evans was warmed up enough after Lockett went down. In addition, the Firecrackers possessed a lot of speed, getting four infield singles and stealing a pair of bases.

“I honestly don’t think they were as fast for us,” Medina said. “I think that they put the bat on the ball. Our pitchers weren’t hitting strikes; they were walking [batters]. We walked [seven] and four of them scored right off the bat in the first [four] innings. Like I told the girls, we can’t be there. We can’t walk the leadoff batter and let them score. That was one of our problems. We don’t believe that they beat us outright. But we believe we beat ourselves.”

The Punishers got on the board in the bottom of the third when Evans singled with one out and scored on a bases-loaded groundout from shortstop Stephanie Jimenez (Santa Fe High, Weatherford College).

The Firecrackers added two more runs in the fourth and three more in the sixth before Jimenez led off the sixth with a solo home run over the left center fence to round out the scoring. While Evans and Jimenez each went two for three, the Firecrackers, with six left-handed hitters in their starting lineup, pounded out a dozen hits off four pitchers.

After a game break, the Punishers were back to their winning ways against the (Thousand Oaks) Batbusters-Konis, scoring twice in the top of the first en route to a 5-1 victory.

With two outs and Evans at first following a leadoff walk, Jimenez hit another home run to the same location as she did in the previous game. After the Batbusters scored in the bottom of the third, the Punishers got the run back in the fourth with another two-out rally. Left fielder Samantha Mancillas (Santa Fe High, Monroe College) doubled to the right field gap and came home on a double from Evans. Then two innings later, pinch hitter Megan Soto (Santa Fe High, Monroe College) led off with a base hit, advanced on a wild pitch and a passed ball and came home when Evans drilled a two-out home run.

“They were pumped and the girls starting off slow a little bit, and then all of a sudden Stephanie doing that…one little thing like that sparks our team,” Medina said. “And we have a good hitting team throughout the whole lineup. We were fired up.”

The offensive production was more than enough for Lockett, who bounced back brilliantly to go the distance, scatter seven hits and strikeout 11 batters.

“DeAndria really performed very well this whole week for us,” Medina said. “She was the key to a lot of our wins and the key to a lot of our success this week. She’s a phenomenal pitcher.

“We do need all our pitchers pitching the same caliber all the time no matter what,” he added. “She came out and fulfilled that obligation and I think she was more mentally prepared in the second game than she was in the first game.”

Right after that game, Medina met up with a former Punishers coach who is now in charge of the USA Athletics program. Mike Rogers, the head coach of the 18-Under team, saw his team break an early tie with four runs in the top of the second inning and advance to the championship game in the 7-2 victory. The Punishers would have needed to defeat the USA Athletics twice to make it to the final game.

“I respect him a lot and I always come over and talk to him,” Medina said. “We’ve talked in Vegas and we’ve talked all over the place. He has a good program. He has plenty of teams and he fills one good Gold team; we have one [18-Under] team and a 16-Under team that we fill one 18-Under [team]. Mike wants a little more on his plate than we do and it shows.”

After the USA Athletics grabbed a 1-0 lead, Evans did it again, tying the contest with a five-pitch home run. The other run came in the third inning when Mo Ramirez walked Jimenez and left fielder Sierra Sandoval (San Pedro High) and hit catcher Anessa Quiroz (San Pedro High, Monroe College) to load the bases. Following a strikeout, a walk to right fielder Trinity Seguritan (Waialua, HI, Kahuku High) allowed Jimenez to come home.

Despite Ramirez and Haley Harris combining to strike out a dozen batters, the Punishers put themselves in position for more runs but stranded 11 batters including two each in the last two innings.

“Until the last out, they never gave up,” Medina said. “They were having fun, they were dancing, they were getting out there and just really playing the game. Like I told them, when you get to college, you have to play every single game and you have to have fun. You have to be able to stay loose and play hard. And, they did that.”

A few weeks ago, Medina challenged the 12 girls who are signed and told them he has one thing to do, and that was to prepare them for college. After coaching in college for nine years, Medina treated those 12 as college players and each one took on that challenge. Medina knew he had a great team when it was assembled last September and by November, all the girls were signed. With that said, he now had a different approach the rest of this past season as far as getting the girls prepared for the PGF National Championship. That’s something that wasn’t quite apparent the previous years when the Punishers failed to win more than two games in any of the past eight PGF National Championships.

“We got a trophy for third place, so, that’s awesome,” Medina said. “We do come in here and I believe coming out of high school every year, we’ve been giving the scholarships. For the last few years, we’ve been getting at least 80 percent of the kids going to college. So, we’re constantly working on scholarships, trying to get them prepared for PGF, trying to come out of high school, and it’s hard to balance that way.”

While most travel softball teams would be done for the summer, the Punishers summer vacation continues as nine players, plus Seguritan will be going to Hawai’i for a tournament Aug. 9-12. The Punishers were invited by a travel team on the islands who would workout at Medina’s batting cages, VIP in Hawaiian Gardens, and asked Medina if he wanted to come out to a tournament in early August. The last time Medina took any of his Punishers teams to Hawai’i was back in 2011. As for next summer, Medina’s 18-Under team will have a less stressful May and June as it doesn’t have to worry about going to Hemet for the PGF Southern California Qualifier or to the Phoenix or Las Vegas Qualifiers.

“We have about 23 kids right now who are on the list trying out for the team that we picked,” Medina said. “I can almost tell you that with a PGF National berth, I think we will find the key players that we need.”

 

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