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Far East meets Far West in trio of softball games

Norwalk girlsBy Loren Kopff

MONTEREY PARK-Even when the Artesia Punishers Gold travel softball team isn’t competing in a showcase tournament or qualifying for an end of the summer national tournament, it’s still playing among the best teams around. This time, the Punishers hosted the Shanghai National team for three games last weekend at East Los Angeles College.

The Shanghai National team is composed of 18 girls ranging in ages from 17-31. The older players are from the East China University of Political Science and Law while the younger players are from the Shanghai Sports School. This was the first time since 2010 that the team from China had played a team from the United States and the third time overall. In 2010, the team played a couple of colleges from California.

“[The Artesia Punishers] were very impressive,” said Shanghai head coach Sun Jie, through his interpreter Marlin Lee. “We had heard about them winning a national championship and two state championships. We were especially impressed with their left handed pitcher.”

For the Punishers and head coach Bob Medina, this was the second time this year they had played a team from outside the country. Earlier in the spring, the Punishers played a team from Peru. In February of 2010, Medina’s 18-Under team at that time, along with the Cerritos Girls Softball Association, hosted the Calgary Diamond Devils for two days at Artesia Park.

“I told the girls it doesn’t matter how old they are,” Medina said. “It doesn’t matter that they are the Shanghai National team. Preparing them for something like this is their whole master plan. If we challenge them here, I believe going into [the] Premier [National Championships], there are probably not too many challenges that hasn’t been in front of them. And they know they can overcome it.”

After the Punishers dropped a 6-5 decision last Friday morning despite leading 5-1 after seven innings, they held a 4-0 lead through the first four innings this past Sunday but ended up losing 8-4. First baseman Monica Rodriguez (Banning High School) drove in pinch runner Kristen Reitz (Cypress High School) with two outs in the bottom of the third.

In the next inning, right fielder Megan Ottino (North Torrance High School/Seattle University) and third baseman Racquel Manzo (La Habra High School) each picked up one out singles off of 30-year old Chen Yan. Following a strikeout, center fielder Samantha Edmiston (Lakewood High School) reached on a rare error by Shanghai and pitcher Sydney Overly (North Torrance High School/Boston University) doubled in a pair of runs.

The Punishers would get two more hits off of Zhao Xin Xing, who pitched the first three innings and the final two-plus frames. Meanwhile, the road weary visitors who played in Hawai’i before coming to Southern California, scored all eight of their runs in the top of the fifth by sending 13 players up to bat. Qu Zhen had two hits in the inning.

Jie said that his team was playing these games in the U.S. to prepare for games against other national teams and to gain more experience for upcoming competition.

“I feel the big difference with the Americans is their confidence, and they swing up,” Jie said. “In China and in Japan, they swing lower. Maybe the power and the strengths are a little bit different.”

“This was very exciting,” said center fielder Xing Yan, who has played on the team for 10 years.

The Chinese finished the game with 11 hits, four of them being doubles, while the Americans recorded eight hits. Manzo and Rodriguez each went two for three.

“You cannot even put a number or a level on that,” Medina said of the way his weekend opponent plays. “Everything that we talked about [with the team] went on. It was basically following their footsteps and watching how their approach to the game is.

“You could see that they’re very disciplined and that’s the one thing that we’re probably going to walk away with,” he later added.

This past Monday, the Punishers notched an 8-7 win. Jie said that his team spent most of the down time shopping at some of the outlet malls around Southern California. While they didn’t go to the most popular attractions like Disneyland or Knott’s Berry Farm, they did go to Universal Studios following the last game. They flew back to China this past Tuesday.

“I like the nice weather and shopping,” Yan said.

As for the future, Jie has already invited Medina to come to Shanghai next October to play in a tournament that will last over a week.

“When you go play a team from out of state in a tournament…you’re honored to play somebody outside the state or far away,” Medina said. “When you get the opportunity to play somebody out of the country, it’s priceless. We’ve done it four times. I believe for these kids here, it was a great opportunity. They’ll remember it for the rest of their lives because we remembered the first time.”

As far as softball in the future for the Summer Olympic Games, which has been absent since Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008, Jie believes that the sport, as well as baseball, will return in time for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in which Japan is one of the three final countries to be considered as a host. Japan defeated the U.S. 3-1 in the gold medal game in Beijing, the only time the U.S. softball team has lost in the gold medal game.

“We are looking forward to having the United States combine with China to push baseball and softball [back] into the Olympics,” Jie said. “We are very disappointed that they cancelled it for the past couple of [Summer Olympic] games.”