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Youngest Artesia Punishers team dominates pool play action

By Loren Kopff


FOUNTAIN VALLEY-The Artesia Punishers 12U travel ball team made a strong impression during the first two days of the inaugural Premier Girls Fastpitch 12U National Championships. The Punishers outscored their three pool play opponents by a combined score of 21-1 at the Fountain Valley Sports Park at Mile Square Park as they began the playoff portion this past Wednesday.
This past Monday, the Punishers defeated the (Fresno) Central Cal Dirt Dogs 4-1, then came back the next day with back to back shutouts over the (Rossmoor) USA Athletics-Austin (10-0) and the Corona Angels (7-0).
“We didn’t do anything special today at all,” said Punishers manager Mike Freeman. “We didn’t hit the ball like we normally hit the ball. But, with 12 and under teams, if you put pressure on defense, they tend to make mistakes. But, I like the fact that we played good defense and our pitching held up.”
Against the Dirt Dogs, the Punishers scored twice in the bottom of the second and third innings and were aided by three errors that led to three of the four runs being unearned. The Punishers managed just three hits-one each from center fielder Ryleigh Bermea, third baseman Cami Sellers and left fielder Shelby Younkin.
This past Tuesday afternoon, the Punishers batted around in the top of the third and scored six runs en route to the easy win over the USA Athletics. With one out, right fielder Jaclyn Candelas was walked and stole second. Second baseman Lailoni Mayfield then pushed a bunt up the third base line to advance Candelas. Shortstop Kinsley Washington brought home Candelas with a base hit and Bermea followed with a run-scoring single. Two batters later, Sellers doubled in Bermea to make it 4-0.
The Punishers added four runs in the next inning as Bermea, Sellers and Washington all drove in runs. Washington went two for three but the story of the game was pitcher Analise De La Roca, who allowed just one hit in three innings, walked one, struck out two and did not allow any of the 10 batters she faced to get past second.
“She’s an excellent 12 and under pitcher,” Freeman said. “She moves the ball really well in and out and never gets rattled. That’s big in 12 and under. Analise will give up a hit and come back strong. She’s been consistent all year. So that performance really doesn’t shock me. She’s thrown no-hitters and she’s been good all year.”
Shortly after the game with the USA Athletics, the Punishers went right back to work and tagged the Corona Angels for a pair of runs in the top of the second as Sellers and courtesy runner Madison Huskey scored on a throwing error. In the third, Candelas was walked, stole second, went to third on a sacrifice from Mayfield and scored when Washington put down a bunt in front of the pitching circle.
With the score 4-0, the Punishers added three more in the fifth as Washington scored on a wild pitch, Huskey dove in catcher Emme Martinez with a groundout and designated player Andrea Cline’s base hit plated courtesy runner Destiny Martinez. Julia Carreon pitched the first three innings, allowing three hits while Ashley Iseri wrapped up the game, yielding a fifth inning single.

“I think it’s big that they expanded to 12 and under because a lot of older coaches; the Gold coaches, don’t take 12 and under that serious,” Freeman said. “I think it’s nice. The girls get to play at home; they don’t have to go out of state and we don’t have to spend a whole bunch of money. I think it’s wonderful.”
The playoffs began this past Wednesday afternoon and the Punishers continued their hot start with a 6-2 victory over the San Diego Power Surge despite being held to four hits. The Punishers put the game away in the bottom of the second with three runs to go up 4-0. Bermea went two for three and a run batted in while Candelas had a run scoring triple. De La Roca went the distance and struck out seven.
However, the Punishers were sent to the loser’s bracket after a 3-2 setback to the (Rancho Cucamonga) Quakes 99 despite 10 strikeouts from De La Roca in five innings of work and 11 hits offensively. Sellers went three for four while De La Roca, Mayfield and Washington all had a pair of hits. The Punishers would have to win seven games out of the loser’s bracket to advance to the championship game, which will be played at Cal State Fullerton on Saturday night.
Unlike most of the 40 teams that are in this tournament, the Punishers didn’t have to qualify to get in. Instead, they were invited based on their performance from the 2011 Southern California Amateur Softball Association Players Association Brenda Marsh Memorial Thanksgiving Tournament, where they lost to the eventual champions, the Orange County Batbusters, in the semifinals.
“They were looking for the teams they thought were going to be solid and gave us an automatic berth, which cut down on the cost for the team,” Freeman said. “They knew we were going to have a good product this summer.”
Throughout the season, the Punishers also won the American Fastpitch Association President’s Day Classic in February, finished in third place in the Triple Crown Sports Dancing in the Desert Tournament in March and were runner-ups in the Las Vegas Tourneys Pair of Dice Tournament in April. All three of the aforementioned tournaments were 14U tournaments.
“The great thing about this team is all of these girls were backups and none of them really played on their teams last year,” Freeman said. “We we started this team, we didn’t get the top-notch players. But they gelled really well as a team. A lot of these girls-this is their first Nationals experience because they were on teams that went to Nationals but they didn’t get to play.”