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CHAMPIONS CUP Offense held in check for Artesia Punishers 18-Under team

By Loren Kopff

IRVINE-When Heather Bowen of the (Las Vegas) Lil Rebels smacked a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning against the Artesia Punishers 18-Under team last Saturday evening, it marked the end of the season for most of the Punishers. That’s when head coach Higinio Valdez and his coaching staff talked to his team for roughly 30 minutes, longer than most postgame speeches by travel ball coaches.

Afterwards, there were lots of hugs and tears around as everyone knew that their summer, at least on the softball field, was over. It’s a scene that you don’t want to see before the middle of July because travel ball players want to play into the early days of August. The Punishers concluded the second week of the popular college showcase tournament that is the Champions Cup with an 8-0 loss to the Lil Rebels as they were held to four hits in the shortened contest that was called with none out in the fifth inning and four runs having come home in the frame.

“I have to give it to my girls,” Valdez said. “It was a great weekend. Obviously my girls showed in the tournament and in previous weekends that we have some hitters and players on the team. They came out yesterday and we got 16 runs on [the (Carmichael) Yard Sharks]; home run after home run. That’s just the way we play.

“In the first game [today], we were a little slow out of the gate but then we picked up on it,” Valdez continued. “But in this game here, they had a great pitcher. I give it to them. They came out prepared and ready to go. They had the flow on their side.”

The best chance the Punishers had to score off of Jacquelyn Sertic came in the top of the second inning when first baseman Ashley Jenkins (Paramount High School) had an infield single and move up a base on a one-out base hit from catcher Karla Bernal (Garfield High School).

That set the stage for second baseman Alexis Weekes (Lakewood High School), who laced a single to center. But Jenkins would be thrown out at home on a bullet of a throw from Sarah Murphy. Then Bernal would be thrown out at third for an inning-ending double play.

“When we play this game, we play it aggressive,” Valdez said. “And that’s what has gotten us to where we are. Unfortunately, we were playing the throw from the outfield and it was a great throw from the outfield. It was a perfect bounce that fell right into the [catcher’s] glove. But there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to send her. We definitely wanted her to come in. We’re aggressive all of the time and we’re not going to change anything.”

The Punishers would get only one more hit the rest of the way, a two-out single from Jenkins in the fourth as Sertic struck out seven of the 19 batters she faced.

“For this game, we prepared ourselves going with speed, both at the bottom of the lineup and starting off with a slapper at the top also,” Valdez said. “[Sertic] was getting us with the outside pitches as well as the rise ball.”

Earlier in the day, the Punishers rallied from a 3-1 deficit with a six-run bottom of the fifth inning and eliminated the (Rocklin) Silverstreak 7-4. Both teams pounded out 10 hits but half of the Punishers’ hits came in that fifth inning.

Centerfielder Logan Miller (Lakewood High School) began the hit parade with a single before being forced at second on a fielder’s choice from pitcher Erica Robles (Lakewood High School). Then shortstop Alexis Pintado (Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary High School) hit a grounder to third. But the throw sailed high about the first baseman, allowing Robles to score and Pintado to get to third.

Third baseman Paige Johnson (Canyon/Canyon Country High School) singled to right on a 2-2 count to bring home Pintado and tie the game at 3-3. After walks to Jenkins and designated player Jade Loe (Los Alamitos High School) loaded the bases, second baseman Erika Garcia (Katella High School) singled in a pair of runs and right fielder Madison Shipley (Los Alamitos High School) did the same with a base hit. Garcia and Miller each had a pair of hits as everyone in the lineup reached base.

The Punishers began pool play action of the Champions Cup with a 4-3 win over the Corona Angels last Wednesday afternoon but then fell to the San Diego Rowdies 6-5 later in the night. The next day, the Punishers lost to the Roseville Heat 6-3 before rallying for an 8-7 win over the (Tracy) All American Sports Academy. Johnson, who scored the game-winning run with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, went two for two with a home run and scored three times while drawing a pair of walks as well. The Punishers built a 3-0 lead after two innings but had to score three runs in the sixth inning to win the game.

Johnson (three for four) would again power the Punishers last Friday morning in an 8-3 win over the (Treasure Coast, FL) Lightspeed Gold. Mariah Ponce (Mater Dei High School) went two for four as the Punishers rallied from a 3-1 deficit with two runs in the bottom of the third, two more in the fourth and the final three runs in the sixth.

The final game of pool play action was a 16-0 romp over the Yard Sharks as the Punishers had as many hits as they did runs. Johnson went two for four with a home run and two runs scored while Jenkins and Loe also hit home runs.

Of the seven teams in the Artesia Punishers program, the 18-Under and 16-Under teams are the only ones that will not compete in some type of national championship tournament. But according to Valdez, he’s not too upset that his season has come to an end. In fact, two of his players-Jenkins and Johnson-will play for Bob Medina’s 18 Gold team in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships at the end of the month.

“We have to give our seniors some rest time to get ready for college,” Valdez said. “I know the season for most of them is over. Now, my younger ones…we’ll continue to work out with them and get them prepared for next year.”





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