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Artesia Punishers Gold team challenged, ready for qualifying tournament


By Loren Kopff

Bob Medina, the manager of the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold travel softball team didn’t know if his team was ready for this weekend’s Premier Girls Fastpitch Southern California qualifier. Despite playing in a pair of showcase tournaments on consecutive weekends, he was worried that it might be too soon right after high school in terms of getting all of his players back on the same page.

As it turned out, the Punishers won all three pool play games in the Surf City Summer Kickoff tournament last Saturday, then won a pair of playoff games before falling to the O.C. Batbusters, coached by Gary Haning and Mike Stith 8-1 this past Sunday at Artesia Park. Still, it was a very productive weekend for the Punishers, who outscored their opponents 35-15.

“I probably couldn’t ask for anything better to happen this weekend than us being challenged constantly with good teams,” Medina said. “Not only that, having calls that were out of the ordinary that changed it to the opponent’s favor, and our kids have to battle back. We did get challenged and not only that, I was able to talk to the girls on how to stay focused with our plan at hand.”

The Punishers defeated the (Carlsbad) San Diego Rebels 4-1, the (San Diego) Fearless 6-2 and the (Concord) Lady Hawks 16-1 last Saturday before beginning the playoffs with a come from behind 3-2 win over the Irvine Sting this past Sunday afternoon. The Sting scored an unearned run in the top of the second inning and added to its lead in the fourth inning on a home run from Jessica Kim.

However, the Punishers rallied in the bottom of the fifth but not without a little bit of drama that caused a 20-minute delay. Shortstop Summer Bodkin (Banning High School) singled to right field, the second hit by the Punishers to that point. Third baseman Racquel Manzo (La Habra High School/Felician College) was hit by a pitch and replaced by pinch runner Jessica Delgado (El Rancho High School/Manhattanville College). On the next pitch, pitcher Leah Gonzales (Banning High School) singled to bring home Bodkin.

Jasmine Higa (Apple Valley High School/Monmouth University) then put down a bunt up the first base line and collided with the Sting first baseman before she had a chance to pick up the ball. At first, she was awarded first base but after the umpires conferred with each other, then a pair of Sting coaches, and finally Medina, the call was reversed. Eventually, Higa would reach on an error to load the bases before Mia Wyatt (West Torrance High School) singled to left field to tie the contest.

Manzo was walked to open the bottom of the seventh inning and after Higa and Wyatt singled with one out to load the bases, the game ended when Alissa Cienfuegos (Carson High School) singled to left. She and Wyatt would each go two for three and drive in a run.

“The kids found a way to win,” Medina said. “They found a way to do this even though the game was a little…it was not a normal game. It was a different game. They got back, fought it and put some good hits [together]. I was very impressed on that game and how they came back and did that.”

Next up was a 5-1 win over the San Diego Renegades as Cienfuegos scattered five hits, walked one and struck out one. The lone tally for the Renegades came in the top of the second when Hailey Boyett scored on a single from Kalalaelisa Toomalatai. The Punishers scored twice in the bottom of the first on run scoring hits from second baseman Toshonnie Baker (North Torrance High School) and Manzo.

Right fielder Kayla Hemni (South Torrance High School/Chaminade University) would be safe on an infield hit, which allowed Wyatt to score in the second. The Punishers put the game away in the fourth as catcher Alexxis Ponce (Santa Fe High School/Portland State University) singled to plate courtesy runner Breanna Larez (El Rancho High School) and a single to left field from Bodkin allowed Hemni (three for four) to score the fifth run.

Hemni would score the team’s only run in the loss to the O.C. Batbusters when she came in on a third inning single from shortstop Logan Miller (Lakewood High School). The Punishers would collect eight hits in the game and despite the loss, another positive came out of the weekend, which happened after the game with the Renegades.

“What was really fortunate is we had Alyssa Cienfuegos verbal right now on the phone before our last game to Odessa (TX) College for a full ride scholarship,” Medina said. “We accomplished our goal, and we accomplished another big goal which was competing at a higher level.”

The Punishers will face the San Diego Power Surge Gold team today in their first game of the PGF So Cal qualifier at Diamond Valley Lake Community Park.