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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH LAS VEGAS QUALIFIER: Artesia Punishers 18 Gold squad starts fast in final qualifier, runs out of gas


By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


When it comes to Premier Girls Fastpitch qualifiers, the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold teams that have been managed by Bob Medina have been unlucky. But in the Las Vegas Qualifier last weekend, the Punishers were hoping luck would finally be on their side despite fielding another small squad, this time with dozen players.

The Punishers got out to a great start in triple digit heat, winning their first three games last Saturday before falling in two straight games this past Sunday. When it was all said and done, Medina had seen his team finish in fifth place in a qualifier in which the top four teams earned automatic berths to the PGF National Championships later this month.

“It was hot, the teams were good and pitching ran out,” Medina said. “We had 12 kids, so we did what we could. The kids played so hard throughout the whole weekend.”

Already in the semifinals, the Punishers just needed to beat the (West Covina) Orange County Batbusters-Perez this past Sunday morning to garner at least a Platinum Division berth. But a back and forth battle fell just short in a 6-5 loss under the international tiebreaker rules.

The Punishers trailed 1-0 before coming back with two runs in the bottom of the second on a two-run home run from designated player Alexis Lopez (Los Osos High). The Batbusters tied the game in the third before catcher Shayna Dahlen (Villa Park High/Idaho State University) walked to lead off the fourth and came home on a single from shortstop Summer Bodkin (Banning High/La Sierra University). But again, the Batbusters would tie the contest with two outs in the fifth. With the Batbusters scoring three runs in the top of the seventh to take a 6-3 lead and leftfielder Alexis Sargent (North Torrance High/Hope University) at second, second baseman Toshonnie Baker (North Torrance High/University of Hawai’i, Hilo) singled to make it 6-4. Centerfielder Lauren Sabihon (North Torrance High/Siena College) then had a base hit and one out later, first baseman Veronica Garcia (North Torrance High/Odessa College) singled to bring in Baker.

However, the next two batters would strikeout, thus putting the Punishers in the loser’s bracket. There, the Punishers were eliminated by the (Scottsdale) Firecrackers AZ 11-1 with the lone tally coming in the top of the second on a lead-off single from Bodkin, who advanced on an error and scored on a base hit from Sargent. Still, the fifth place finish was the highest ever in all PGF qualifiers that Medina has been in.

“That was a great game; we should have won that game all the way through,” Medina said of the first game this past Sunday. “And [the players] even knew it. They played so hard with the heat and everything. You cannot say that they did anything wrong.

“I think we left everything on the table with the Batbusters,” he continued. “Their energy was up. We went into the next game and started with a double right off the bat on the first pitch. Everybody was still fired up and our pitchers didn’t have any more gas. The catchers were saying they didn’t have it. They were tired and I understand it. They worked hard against some very, very good teams.”

The Punishers began the tournament with a 5-1 win over the (Anaheim) Orange County United last Saturday morning as Dahlen (three for three) and Baker each hit solo home runs and Sabihon went two for four with a run scored. Pitcher Leah Gonzales (Banning High/University of Hawai’i, Hilo) scattered five hits and struck out five. Immediately after that game, the Punishers blanked the (Pleasanton) Lady Hustle 5-0 as pitcher Brianna Garrett (Quartz Hill High/Siena College) tossed a one-hitter and struck out five.

The Punishers scored in the top of the first on a home run from Baker, one in the fourth on a run-scoring single from Bodkin, who drove in Dahlen, one more in the fifth on a triple from Baker and a single from Sabihon and two in the sixth on a two-run home run from Sargent.

Later in the day, the Punishers doubled up the (San Diego) Batbusters-Mauga 4-2 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third on a two-run home run from Sabihon and two more in the fifth. Gonzales was brilliant again in the circle, yielding four hits and allowing no earned runs.

“We went out [to Las Vegas] and the kids who went were solid,” Medina said. “Just seeing the older kids out there playing again…this is the level of play in order to qualify in big tournaments to play against the best of the best. This is the team you have to have on the field. You cannot put a younger team, a 16-Under team in an 18 Gold level. That’s kind of where we’re at, but we had the majority of our [older] kids back and the first five or six girls in the lineup were solid.”

Even with 12 players, the Punishers were banged up like they’ve never been banged up before. Prior to coming to Las Vegas, Lopez and her mother were involved in a car accident where they were rear-ended. As a result, Lopez played with a hurt back. Gonzales was sent to the emergency room with an infection to her face as a result of a bug bite. Bodkin was also in the emergency room in Las Vegas with strep throat. Baker and Sargent were sick prior to coming to Las Vegas but managed to battle the elements to play through.

The Punishers will take this weekend off before competing in the Surf City Summer Showcase July 8-10. In addition, the Punishers will be hosting a clinic on July 8 run by college coaches.