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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS: Sputtering offense sends Artesia Punishers 14-Under Guerrero team home early

By Loren Kopff

FOUNTAIN VALLEY-After collecting 24 hits in the three pool play games of the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships this past Sunday and Monday, the Artesia Punishers 14-Under team, coached by Danny Guerrero, went completely the opposite direction from that point on. For the second straight game in the playoffs of the Premier Division, the Punishers were held to two hits and were bounced out of the tournament by the (Sioux Falls) South Dakota Renegades 6-0 this past Wednesday morning.

The Punishers were treading in unchartered territory during their brief stint at the Fountain Valley Sports Park. In the two playoff games, the team collected four hits, had a total of seven base runners and had just one runner get as far as third base. In addition, hitters put the ball in play on the first pitch from the opposition 14 times out of 46 plate appearances and on the second pitch nine times.

“Our bats went flat on us,” Guerrero said. “We hit the ball pretty hard yesterday, I thought. But it was just right to [the defenders] and sometimes that happens in a game. Then we made a couple of mistakes [on defense] in the first game that cost us some runs. But if we are getting no runs, it doesn’t really matter because we’re not producing offensively.”

Against the Renegades, shortstop Karina Ibarra (Lakewood High School) walked on seven pitches, stole second and went to third on a one-out groundout from designated player Pacy Villa (Martin Luther King High School).

The Renegades opened the scoring in the second when Callie Wethor laced a one-out homerun down the left field line that appeared to have tailed off to the left of the foul pole. However, the umpires had a different opinion of the play. Then in the next inning, the Renegades finally got to pitcher Kendall Henscheid (Huntington Beach High School) by tagging her for four hits and three runs with the big blow being a two-run single from Megan Guericke.

Grace Glanzer, one of four players yet to enter high school, was throwing a no-hitter until Villa singled to center with one out in the fourth. But she would be stranded at second. Left fielder Jazzmynn Loe (Los Alamitos High School) would double to the left field gap with one out in the fifth but never advanced and Villa reached on a two-out error in the final inning but that would be all of the offense the Punishers could muster.

“We got four hits in two games and that’s something I have not encountered with this team,” Guerrero said. “I guess it happens because I just saw it happen.

“Sometimes that happens to you and it’s sad to see that happen to us at PGF,” he added. “I can’t take anything away from the girls because they’re a great ball club. They obviously earned their way here. They’ve proved themselves all season long.”

Before pool play action began this past Sunday, the Punishers faced the Renegades in a “practice game” last Friday and edged the team from the Coyote State by one run. One would think that the Punishers would have an advantage after previously beating them. In addition, the Renegades had staved off elimination late this past Tuesday night with an 8-7, eight-inning win over the (San Diego) Power Surge despite blowing a 7-1 lead going into the bottom of the fourth.

“I think it was an advantage just because we outscored them that day and we got to see the things they got to do,” Guerrero said. “And they got to see us too, but we were batting 13, 14 kids that day and they were batting their straight nine. I was surprised on some of the pitches that they hit that weren’t in the strike zone, and they still put the bat on the ball and were able to produce the runs they needed to produce.”

“I just told them to keep their heads up,” Guerrero later said on his post game speech with the team following the loss. “They’re a great team and they had a great season. They showed that they could compete with anybody out there and that they would just learn from this experience. They have a lot of softball left in them.”

The Punishers waited all the way until close to 6:00 this past Tuesday night to begin the playoffs against the (Chino) Firecrackers-Brashear and after Henscheid had retired the first six batters she faced, she walked Ava Fairbanks to begin the top of the third and courtesy runner Hannah Matteson would score the first run in a 4-0 win. Again, the Punishers were limited to just a base hit from catcher Rebecca Chung (West Torrance High School) to lead off the second, a third inning lead-off single from first baseman Jessi Alvarado (Gahr High School) and a two-out walk in that inning issued to center fielder Erica Guerrero (Kennedy High School).

Despite the lack of offense, Henscheid was doing all she could to keep her team in the game. She got eight hitters to put the ball in play on the first pitch and she was ahead in the count 18 times. Only four times did she fall behind in the count with two resulting in hits, one in a walk and the other a strikeout.

“I think we had a really good draw,” Danny Guerrero said. “The coaches felt that we had to stay out of the loser’s bracket and it just didn’t happen for us in that first game. When you see yourself put in a hole like that, you have to be mentally tough. Just like I said [before the PGF National Championships] our mental game is something we need to work on.”

The Punishers began pool play action this past Sunday morning at Harvard Park in Irvine with a 4-3 win over the (Rancho Penasquitos) Epoch in which Villa went two for three and drove in a run and newcomer Marissa Garza (North Torrance High School) drove in a pair.

Immediately after the game, the Punishers squandered a two-run lead against the (Tucson) AZ Thundercats and finished in a 2-2 tie. Both teams had four hits with Ibarra going two for two and driving in a run. The team then slammed the (Frisco) TX American Freedom Prospects 9-1 this past Monday morning behind a 12-hit attack. Erica Guerrero went three for three while second baseman Danielle Lew (Los Alamitos High School) and third baseman Alicia Lopez (Deer Park, TX High School) each brought in a pair of runs.

Last season, when the Punishers finished in fifth place in the Platinum Division at the PGF National Championships, they had 13 players. This season began with 12 but former catcher Berlyn Carreon left when the team returned from Colorado after competing in the Triple Crown World Series. On top of that, the team was without the services of catcher/third baseman Roxanne Habash (Kennedy High School), who fell ill earlier in the summer and was dealing with minor injuries to Chung, Henscheid and Villa during the tournament. Had those five key players been healthy and together for this summer’s PGF National Championships, it would have been a different story.

“We came in a little beat up,” Danny Guerrero said. “We were healthy most of the season [but] we had some issues here and there. Alicia did a great job at third base; great defensive job there. The chemistry of the team was still very strong. Losing [Berlyn] obviously is tough, but I think overall I think it was best for the team in the long run.

“I was pretty confident coming into the tournament that we were going to do well, and I didn’t see any type of things that would be a disadvantage for us,” he continued.

Danny Guerrero will move up to 16-Under status when the new season begins next month. Yet to be determined will be if most, or all of the players, minus Lopez who was picked up from Texas, stay together or go in other directions. The remainder of the 14-Under Punishers-Guerrero are: Angelina Dumlao (Griffith Junior High School), Kayla Gutierrez (La Mirada High School), Haylie Montoya (Heights Christian Junior High School), Merissa Millette (Kennedy High School) and Anyssa Ortega (La Mirada High School).

“I’m hoping that we can keep things going,” Danny Guerrero said. “You just never know after the season. You just have to talk and go over things and recalculate things and see what we’re going to do from here.”