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Artesia Punishers still focused despite not earning berth to National Championships

By Loren Kopff

HUNTINGTON BEACH-Regardless of how the Artesia Punishers 18-U travel ball team did in the Premier Girls Fastpitch Southern California qualifier, the team was still going to stay in the Golden State in late July. Despite not getting a chance to play in the 3rd annual PGF National Championships again later next month, manager Bob Medina isn’t disappointed at all at his team’s performance.
The Punishers were slammed by the (Modesto) All American Sports Academy Gold team 11-1 this past Sunday morning at the Huntington Beach Sports Complex and were knocked out of the double elimination qualifier. The Punishers were hoping to earn one of the six berths to the 2012 PGF National Championships that were available last weekend. Now, the Punishers will concentrate on playing in non-qualifying tournaments in Southern California once the team returns from the Colorado Sparkler Tournament next week in Westminster, CO.
“We really tried to focus on keeping the funds,” Medina said. “I know some of these teams are up to $500 a month. Ours is $400 for the whole year. When you think about it, we’re going to a qualifier that’s in Southern California and if we make it, great. If we don’t make it, we’ll just go to the women’s open and play against the kids who are in college.”
The AASA pounded pitcher Jennifer Iseri (Cerritos High School) for four runs in each of the first two innings to put the game away early. The Punishers, though, loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first as Delany DeMello walked third baseman Mercedes O’Connor (Edison High School/Brigham Young University) and yielded base hits to Iseri and Jessica Munoz (Canyon High School). But the Punishers couldn’t push across a run.
With the score 10-0, the Punishers avoided the shutout in the bottom of the third when second baseman Emily Brucelas (Fountain Valley High School) and O’Connor singled, followed by a fielder’s choice from Iseri, which plated Brucelas. The Punishers collected half a dozen hits with Munoz going two for two.
The Punishers began the tournament last Friday afternoon with a 9-3 win over AASA’s other team, this one out of Livermore. Brucelas went two for three and scored twice as well as hitting a home run and shortstop Kristina Akiona (Pacifica High School/University of Hawai’i) scored twice. Pitcher Cerissa Rivera (Fountain Valley High School/Monmouth University) yielded nine hits and struck out three. Last Saturday, the Punishers easily handled (Claremont) Kryptonite 7-1 as O’Connor and right fielder Heather Cameron (Cerritos High School) each scored twice. Iseri allowed two hits and struck out four.
“Jen did well and she’s proven her performance all the way through,” Medina said.
Later in the day, the Punishers were sent to the loser’s bracket after falling to the (La Palma) Firecrackers 2-1. Monica Caporal (Paramount High School) and Melissa Ortega each had a hit and Munoz scored the lone run in the top of the seventh.
This past Sunday morning, the Punishers held on for a 7-6 win over (La Canada) Teamsmith Gold despite a late rally in the fifth and sixth innings. Catcher Lisa Perez (La Mirada High School) cracked a one-out home run in the top of the second and Akiona singled in a pair of runs with two outs. The Punishers loaded the bases in the third and added to their lead when Iseri came in on a base hit from Rivera. The score increased to 7-0 in the fourth as Iseri’s base hit brought in Akiona, who had led off the frame with a double. A groundout from Munoz plated Brucelas and Perez reached on an error, allowing O’Connor to score her team’s last run. Akiona and O’Connor each had three hits while Perez went two for three.
“The bats went sour [in this tournament],” Medina said. “We had great opportunities to be there at the end. But the bats…they were hot, they were cold, they were hot, they were cold.”
This is the second straight year that a Medina-coached team will not play for a National Championship. In 2010, his team participated in the Amateur Softball Association 18-U “A” National Championships in Hemet. However, the Punishers will return for a second straight year to the Southern California ASA Women’s Fastpitch State Tournament where they will play against college players. Last year, the Punishers went 3-3 in the two-day affair at Whittier Narrows Park. This year’s event will take place July 21-22 at Butterfield Park in Corona.
“The kids really opted to take on the women’s open where we are going to play against all of the college players you see on T.V.,” Medina said. “We did it last year, it was fun and we’ll do it again.”
The Punishers will face the Nebraska Nemesis Gold and Colorado Outlaws on Tuesday in pool play action of the Colorado Sparkler Tournament, a college showcase function hosted by Triple Crown Sports. On Wednesday, the Punishers will take on the Austin Stars Gold and Oregon Magic in two more pool play games. The double elimination portion of the Sparkler will begin on Friday.