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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA QUALIFIER: Fast start by Artesia Punishers Gold team ends with two straight losses

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


HEMET-For the fourth time in seven trips to the Premier Girls Fastpitch Southern California Qualifier, the Artesia Punishers 18-Under Gold team, managed by Bob Medina, won its first two games, putting the team in a great position for the rest of the weekend. But the Punishers, who waited nearly 24 hours after winning the second game to play again, lost a pair of games in a span of nearly six hours last Saturday at Diamond Valley Lake Community Park.

Medina has never earned a berth in either the Platinum or Premier Division in this qualifier since the PGF was first formed in 2010. Coming into this season, Medina said that the key to this year is that the players are aware of going short and coming up short and that all he wants to do is take the next step forward for their softball career.

The Punishers began last Saturday’s action falling to the (Aliso Viejo) California Cruisers 9-1 as pitcher Brianna Garrett (Quartz Hill High/Sienna College) went all five innings, throwing 115 pitches but constantly was a strike away from getting out of damage. Garrett was ahead in the count to 21 of the 30 batters she faced and was ahead 0-2 10 times.

The Cruisers scored three times in the bottom of the first, highlighted by a two-run double from Erika Morris. She and Lauryn Fairchild would have run-scoring hits in the fourth and Kyla Rignone’s three-run home run in the fifth capped off the scoring.

“We had Bri last year and she wasn’t our number one [pitcher],” Medina said. “But Bri this year is our number one. She’s a senior and she will definitely be missed, but [Yamila Evans (San Marino High/Siena College)] is coming in behind her. Then we have a couple of young ones coming in. Bri wants to win. But when you have an error here and an error there…we don’t have all of our outfielders and we don’t have any depth for the outfield.”

The lone run for the Punishers came in the third when designated player Kirsten Hernandez (Lakewood High/La Sierra University) reached on an infield single and scored on a two-out single from third baseman Samantha Noriega (Carson High). She and Evans each went two for three.

Almost two and a half hours following the conclusion of that game, the Punishers wasted little time in getting on the board against the (Riverside) Explosion, scoring twice in the top of the first. But the Explosion scored three times in the bottom of the third and held on for a 5-3 victory.

“I think they accomplished the goal that we were trying to accomplish,” Medina said. “We wanted that in the first game; we didn’t accomplish it. I think it just got away from us. We kind of got them back together mentally and said, ‘hey, here’s our goal, here’s what we’re trying to do’. They came out and really fired up in the first inning.”

With two outs on a total of five pitches seen, Garrett and center fielder Amanda Canizales (Whittier High/California State University, Dominguez Hills) each singled and scored on a double from catcher Anessa Quiroz (San Pedro High).

The Explosion would add single tallies in the first and second before the Punishers took a 3-2 lead in the third when Noriega doubled to the right field corner and came home on a base hit from Quiroz. But in the bottom half of the frame, Aleena Gonzalez smacked a home run to center to tie the contest. A walk to Maddie Valdez and an error, which allowed Morgan Parsons to reach first, set the stage for the next two batters.

Amanda Jacobson grounded out to second, allowing Gonzalez to score the eventual game-winner. Then a single from Valeria Castillo brought home Parsons.

“We had a couple of chances there,” Medina said. “Like I told the girls, regardless of what is going on there, we have to fight those elements. We’re a swimmer, they’re sharks and we have to make sure that we swim in those elements.

“I think the pitchers left a couple of balls up,”: Medina later added. “I really do. They got some good hits. They’re both great teams. They always compete very well here. We let it get away from us.”

The Punishers had a golden opportunity to at least tie the game in the fifth when Garrett and Canizales each reached on an error and first baseman Jessi Alvarado was hot by a pitch to load the bases with one out. But a fielder’s choice and a groundout ended that threat. The Punishers would then go down in order in the next inning to end the game. Garrett and Quiroz each went two for three and Quiroz finished the weekend going four for nine with four runs batted in and two runs scored.

“Anessa has been doing a great job,” Medina said. “She’s short; we always tease her. She’s not the tallest kid here but she hits like she’s the tallest kid here. For all of last year and this year, she’s been my number two batter and I’ve always had a lot of confidence in her going up to bat. She’s very strong and very dedicated to everything.”

The Punishers began the qualifier with a 2-1 win over the (Newbury Park) Southern California Pumas last Friday morning as Evans had a two-run single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth, scoring Alvarado and center fielder Samantha Mancillas (Santa Fe High). Later in the afternoon, the Punishers blasted the (Whittier) Orange County Batbusters, coached by Henry Bretado, 10-2. Garrett and right fielder Casey Moritz (Villa Park High/Southwestern University) each went three for three with a run scored and four other players each collected a pair of hits.

“I told them, if anything, I was proud of them today on how they came together as a team and battled,” Medina said. “That’s all we wanted to accomplish this weekend.”

The Punishers still have another opportunity to automatically qualify for the PGF National Championships later in July as they will be in Las Vegas this weekend for the PGF’s final qualifier. The Punishers begin action against the California Panthers this morning.

“It’s going to be fun going to Vegas and competing against the same teams we’re competing against right now,” Medina said. “I expect to win and I told the girls, if it’s in the cards, it’s in the cards. But I do expect the win.”