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Artesia Punishers 14-Under team clinches berth to PGF National Championships


By Loren Kopff

MENIFEE-The Artesia Punishers 14-Under travel softball team, coached by Danny Guerrero, made the most of its only appearance in a Premier Girls Fastpitch National Qualifier. Less than 24 hours after the team played almost four complete games in its longest day of action this season, the Punishers celebrated the longest day of the calendar year by clinching a berth in the Premier Division of next month’s PGF National Championships.

The Punishers bounced back from their only loss of the tournament by knocking off the (San Ramon) California Grapettes-Renfro 6-1 this past Sunday afternoon at Wheatfield Park. The team capped off the weekend by winning five of its six games played. After winning the first four games, the Punishers fell to the (Long Beach) USA Athletics-Thompson 4-3 in the final game in the winner’s bracket for both teams.

“The thing that put a lot of pressure on us was knowing that this was our only chance to qualify,” Guerrero said. “That just adds the pressure to the whole event. The team knew that this is the only time that we had to try to qualify as a team. We came in knowing what we had to do and I think the team deserves a berth to [the

The Punishers struck first with a pair of runs in the top of the first inning. It began with a one-out single from center fielder Erica Guerrero (Kennedy High School). After left fielder Pacy Villa (Martin Luther King High School) reached on an error, third baseman Rebecca Chung (West Torrance High School) doubled to the right field gap to plate Erica Guerrero. Pitcher Kendall Henscheid (Huntington Beach High School) would then be safe on an error, allowing Villa to come home.

That would be more than enough for Henscheid, who pitched 29 innings in the tournament. Henscheid scattered eight hits, struck out three and did not allow a run until the seventh inning.

“That’s what the team is built to do; to score runs right away,” Danny Guerrero said. “We like to start quick. Once we got in here and started rolling, they were really upset about that last game because they really felt they were the better team.”

The Punishers doubled their lead in the fourth inning when catcher Berlyn Carreon (Los Alamitos High School) doubled and scored on a two-out double from shortstop Karina Ibarra (Lakewood High School). Two pitches later, Erica Guerrero singled to make it 4-0. The team would add two more runs in the seventh when Henscheid brought in Villa with a base hit and pinch hitter Anyssa Ortega (La Mirada High School) was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, allowing designated player Jazzmynn Loe (Los Alamitos High School) to score. Erica Guerrero went two for four while five other players all had a hit.

The Punishers began the day with some drama that was left over from late last Saturday night. Their game with the (Lemoore) Central California Dirt Dogs-Gorton started over an hour late and with an 8-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth with approximately 10 minutes remaining, the sprinklers came on and the game had to be resumed at 9:45 this past Sunday morning.

Much to the chagrin of Punishers, it took only two pitches to complete the game after Ibarra blooped a single to shallow center with the bases loaded, scoring Carreon and first baseman Jessi Alvarado (Gahr High School). Had the game finished last Saturday night, the Punishers would not have had to return to Wheatfield Park until close to 11:00 this past Sunday morning.

The resumption of the game didn’t come without some controversy, though, as a member of the Dirt Dogs coaching staff told his team not to shake hands with the Punishers. But while both teams still walked by each other to say the customary “good game”, the third base coach of the Dirt Dogs blurted out a two-word profane comment to right fielder Merissa Millette (Kennedy High School).The comment drew the attention of the Punishers to the point where the PGF Umpire in Chief had to come by moments later to inquire on the situation.

The Punishers had a chance to go undefeated in the tournament but came up short against the USA Athletics despite rallying for two runs late. The team led 1-0 after half an inning after Chung’s double to the right field gap drove in Erica Guerrero. But the USA Athletics struck back for three runs in their half of the frame on a run-scoring double from Alyssa Benthagen and a RBI triple from Daisy Munoz.

Down 4-1 and stymied throughout most of the first four innings, the Punishers came back in the fifth as Villa doubled with two outs and came home when Chung launched a home run over the centerfield fence. The Punishers would then strand the tying runs in each of the final three innings.

“Last night was really frustrating for everybody,” Danny Guerrero said. “The girls were tired. We were here from 6:30 in the morning to 11:30 at night. Then they had to make that big drive [home], then they came back [this morning] three hours earlier. The girls came in, they were pumped up for the first game, they were positive and we got it done in two pitches. But it takes a big toll on you because they were sitting there for another two hours in the sun waiting for the next game to start.”

The Punishers began the tournament with a 2-1 win over the (Camarillo) Southern California Diamonds as Henscheid, who struck out 10 and allowed five hits, doubled to bring in Chung and Alvarado in the bottom of the seventh. Last Saturday morning, the Punishers blanked the (Tustin) Orange County Batbusters-Alvarez 8-1 behind a combined two-hitter from Erica Guerrero and Henscheid. Alvarado, Ibarra and Villa all had two hits in the game.

The team then blanked the (Simi Valley) Southern California A’s-Datan 5-0 behind Henscheid (four strikeouts, three hits allowed). She would also go two for four while Villa went two for five.

“The biggest part in these tournaments is getting through your first three or four games,” Danny Guerrero said. “Once you get through those three or four games, your team is relaxed. You’re used to playing and they’re getting into the groove of things.”

Last summer, the Punishers finished tied for fifth place in the Platinum Division of the PGF National Championships. Also last summer, his team tied for 33rd place out of 121 teams in the 14 ‘A’ Amateur Softball Association/United States of America National Championships.

“We’re a second-year 14 team and you want to be there because all of the colleges are there to watch,” Danny Guerrero said. “These girls are a top 14 and under team. Last year we were first-year 14s and we played Platinum, which was okay because it’s hard to compete with the older teams. This year we’re looking to get to the championship [game]. We wanted to be in the highest level competition with this team because that’s the way they’ve been playing for the last three years.”