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Artesia Punishers Gold team goes through offensive slump


By Loren Kopff

HEMET-Entering this past Sunday’s action in the Premier Girls Fastpitch Southern California qualifier at Diamond Valley Lake Community Park, the Artesia Punishers Gold team was sitting somewhat in good shape. It was among 24 teams still alive in this double elimination tournament with a total of 10 automatic berths to be handed out for the PGF National Championships later next month.

But the Punishers lost two out of three games and will have to try again in at least one and possibly two more qualifying tournaments. The one bugaboo for the Punishers all weekend was the offense, which collected 22 hits over its last four games after getting 11 in its opener last Friday afternoon.

“Even in the games that we won, we didn’t play well,” said Punishers head coach Bob Medina. “The defense was there. The pitching was there. But the hitting was very disappointing this weekend. The offensive players that I have…at least 12 players on the team are capable of batting .400…they just went flat.”

The Punishers began this past Sunday morning with a 3-1 loss to the (Concord) KG Hitters as a two-run home run from Taylor Blair in the bottom of the sixth was the difference. The Punishers were trailing 1-0 until the top of the sixth when first baseman Alexa Guerra (Cypress High School) doubled down the left field line, moved to third on a fielder’s choice from right fielder Daphne Gaspar (Downey High School) and scored on a passed ball.

The Punishers were limited to four hits and of the 25 trips to the plate, a dozen batters connected on either the first, second or third pitch thrown from Blair. They had a chance to score an inning earlier when shortstop Monica Rodriguez (Banning High School) was safe on a fielder’s choice and went to third on a ground rule double from catcher Jennifer Vasquez (Norwalk High School). But Blair struck out the last two batters to end that threat.

Immediately after the loss, the Punishers stayed alive with a come from behind 5-4 win against (Orange County) Firecrackers coached by Ben Pasco. Trish Trujillo was throwing a perfect game and was staked to a 4-0 lead entering the top of the fifth. That’s when Guerra led off with a base hit and pinch hitter Dominique Salgado (Valencia High School) reached on a walk. Consecutive run scoring hits from third baseman Racquel Manzo (La Habra High School) and Rodriguez made it a 4-2 game. Both would later come home on an error and a wild pitch respectively.

“We knew that she was pitching inside and…it’s been the story of the whole weekend,” Medina said of Trujillo. “The girls took so long to adjust to every pitcher that I believe they weren’t adjusting in a timely manner. You’re in championship play and you have to adjust quickly.”

Two innings later and now under the international tiebreaker rules, Alexxis Ponce (Santa Fe High School) began at second, moved to third on a sacrifice from Rodriguez and scored the winning run on a double from left fielder Kristen Reitz (Cypress High School/El Paso Community College). Sydni Overly (North Torrance High School/Boston University), who pitched the first three innings, then came back in the bottom of the fifth, struck out the final two batters of the game and had six strikeouts total.

In the third game of the day, the Punishers grabbed a 1-0 lead against the (Woodland) All American Sports Academy when second baseman Kelli Tatum (Fountain Valley High School/Santa Clara University) singled, moved to second when Guerra was walked and advanced twice on wild pitches. But AASA sent nine batters to the plate in the bottom half of the frame, scored five times and went on to rout the Punishers 9-3.

AASA scored three more times in the second inning as the Punishers pitching staff was beginning to get worn out. Just in the three games this past Sunday, Overly threw 92 pitches in six and two thirds innings, Nicole Ayala (Torrance High School/Southeastern Louisiana University) tossed 118 pitches in four innings and Hailey Hoffman (Lakewood) threw 77 pitches in just over three innings of work.

“You can pitch five games in a day; you really could,” Medina said. “You can pitch two games in a day, three games in a day easily, because they do it. But I think they were hacked out and I think it showed.”

The Punishers got out to a slow start last Friday afternoon against (Redlands) Team Easton but pushed across five runs in the top of the third and posted a 6-0 victory. Ponce had a run scoring hit and center fielder Samantha Edmiston (Lakewood High School/Odessa College) drove in a pair of runs in that third inning. Craft, Ponce and left fielder Lauren Sabihon (North Torrance High School) all had a pair of hits.

The Punishers then edged (La Habra) So Cal Wicked 2-1 last Saturday afternoon as Vasquez scored the game winner in the bottom of the eighth inning and Overly struck out nine.

Next up for the Punishers is the PGF Stockton qualifier, today, against the Lakewood Firecrackers.

“They have to find it,” Medina said. “We have the team; we know we have the depth. That’s a positive that came out of this. We have four pitchers. That’s a positive.”

In nearby Menifee, the Artesia Punishers 14-Under team coached by Anthony Medina played five games, all decided by one run. But after winning two straight games in the loser’s bracket last Saturday, the team was bounced out of the tournament by the Courage 5-4.

“The five games we played were great games,” head coach Anthony Medina said. “The girls brought a lot to the table. They competed this weekend and even though we didn’t qualify, we’re very happy with the team.”

The Punishers began with a 5-4 win over the USA Athletics last Friday before falling to Teamsmith 4-3 later in the evening. Last Saturday morning, the Punishers knocked off the So Cal Breakers 6-5 and eliminated the Orange County Pride 4-3.

“One thing about our team is they don’t give up,” Anthony Medina said. “In a couple of the games, we were actually behind real early in the game and they ended up coming back to win. It says a lot about the character of the team. The chemistry of the team is unspeakable.”

The Punishers, who placed fourth out of 23 teams in the PGF Arizona qualifier May 24-26, had already qualified for the Amateur Softball Association 14-Under National Championships later next month in San Diego.

“The Artesia Punisher program is about student athletes and creating these girls who not only can compete at a high level, but do well in school,” Anthony Medina said. “Every girl that I have on my team is exactly that.”

Another Artesia Punishers 14-Under team, this one coached by Danny Guerrero, blanked the Long Beach Firecrackers 11-0 last Friday afternoon before losing the next two games. Against the Firecrackers, Kendall Henscheid (Huntington Beach High School) allowed one hit, which came on the fourth pitch of the game. She retired 15 of the last 17 batters she faced, striking out seven and walking two. She also went two for three and scored three runs.

The team has also qualified for the ASA 14-Under National Championships and will also be going to the Triple Crown Sports World Series.