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Artesia Punishers 18-Under Gold team stymied by familiar opponent in elimination game


By Loren Kopff

FOUNTAIN VALLEY-For the second time in four days, the Artesia Punishers 18-Under Gold team hooked up with the (West Hills) Southern California 3D squad in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships Platinum Division. But unlike the first time, the stakes were much higher as the winner would stay alive in the tournament and the loser would be sent home packing after a second straight loss.

The Punishers came out swinging for sure. But the problem was most of those swings were at the stagnant morning air as the Punishers were baffled by the pitching of Lilliana Robles and fell to the So Cal 3D 5-2 this past Wednesday morning. Robles pitched into the seventh inning, giving up four hits and striking out four. But of the 27 batters she faced, she threw the first pitch for a strike 20 times and was ahead in the count 0-2 half a dozen times. She didn’t allow a runner to reach third until the bottom of the fifth inning, which by that time the score was 3-0.

“Of course she did a great job,” said Punishers manager Bob Medina. “Probably in the first inning we knew what she was throwing; we already saw them [in pool play]. But us chasing that high pitch and us letting strike one go was not our plan. Our plan was to get up there and be aggressive, regardless. We have seven innings no matter what. So, we have a lot of swings with the bat.”

The Punishers backed up starting pitcher Sydni Overly (North Torrance High School/Boston University) early on with some exceptional defense. In the top of the third inning in a scoreless game, shortstop Monica Rodriguez (Banning High School) snared a potential hit from Melanie Abzun who threw to first baseman Dominique Salgado (Valencia High School/Sterling College) for the first out. Then with a batter on first with two outs, second baseman Kelli Tatum (Fountain Valley High School/Santa Clara University) raced all the way into foul territory just behind first base and made a spectacular diving catch to end the inning.

“I think Sydni did a phenomenal job for us,” Medina said. “You can’t just hold everybody out in a national championship tournament. You’re not looking for a pitcher to come out and just throw shutouts. It may happen, it may not. The defense we had on the field really stepped up and were making some phenomenal plays and were going all out. That’s the stuff that was good on the defensive end. But you have to put it together all the way around.”

But again, the Punishers couldn’t get anything going despite a two-out single in the first from right fielder Kristen Reitz (Cypress High School/El Paso Community College) and a one out double to shallow right field from third baseman Paige Johnson (Canyon Country, Canyon High School) in the fourth.

The So Cal 3D finally got to Overly in the fifth as Toni Mendoza’s fielder’s choice plated Mariah Ellis. One inning later, Ellis and Erin Mendoza had back to back run scoring hits. Then in the seventh inning, Overly was chased from the circle after Heather Blake and Charlette Romero had consecutive lead-off doubles.

The Punishers avoided being shutout when Robles walked pinch hitters Ashley Machado (Warren High School) and Ashley Jenkins (Paramount High School) with one out in the last frame. Left fielder Daphne Gaspar (Downey High School) then hit an infield single and when the throw sailed away from the first baseman, Machado had raced around to score. Tatum followed that up with a run scoring groundout. Gaspar, Johnson and Reitz all had a pair of hits while Overly struck out eight and walked one in six innings of work.

“We didn’t get any hits; it was obvious,” Medina said. “We weren’t disciplined at home plate. We didn’t go after strike one, which our whole team forever has always gone after strike one if it’s there. We always stress that philosophy.”

In addition, the first four batters in the Punishers lineup saw a total of 30 pitches from Robles in a combined 12 plate appearances from the soon to be high school sophomore.

“If we would have swung at the first pitch, I think that we probably would have changed the whole outcome of the game,” Medina said. “And I told them from the first inning to go after the first pitch. I think we were aggressive, but we weren’t aggressive enough.”

The Punishers dropped a 5-4 decision to the Salinas Storm this past Tuesday afternoon in the first game of the double elimination bracket play. Tatum had a double to score Gaspar in the top of the first inning before the Storm answered back to take a 2-1 lead. But in the top of the fourth, the Punishers reclaimed the lead when Rodriguez cracked a two-run home run after Alexa Guerra (Cypress High School/La Sierra University) led off with a single and was replaced with pinch runner Toshonnie Baker (North Torrance High School).

The Punishers had a chance to do some damage two innings later when Johnson, Guerra and Rodriguez were walked with none out. But a fielder’s choice forced Johnson out at home and a double play ended that opportunity. In the final inning, the Punishers tied the game at 4-4 on a run scoring single from Reitz. But in the bottom half of the inning, Callee Heen led off with a hit, went to second on a sacrifice and to third on a passed ball before ending the game on Tiffany Moore’s single. Tatum and Reitz each had a pair of hits while Overly struck out four and walked two.

“If anything comes out of it positive I think the kids going to college understand the dynamics behind the game because after [the loss], we went to centerfield and we must have talked for  a good 45 minutes, if not longer,” Medina said. “I believe that did not carry over to a negative part. I think it carried over to a positive thing.”

The Punishers began pool play action this past Sunday morning with a 5-3 win come from behind victory over the San Jose Sting despite getting just four hits. Later in the morning, the Punishers couldn’t hold onto a four-run lead and fell to the So Cal 3D 6-5.

This past Monday morning, the Punishers were blasted by the (Covington, WA) Absolute Blast Gold 11-1. The lone run for the Punishers came in the bottom of the second inning when Johnson blasted a solo shot over the left field wall on the second pitch she saw from Olivia Reiner, making it a 2-1 contest.