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2017 PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Artesia Punishers Gold team gets stung in elimination game, fails to get timely hits

The Artesia Punishers 10-Under (all red jerseys) and 18 Gold teams pose for a group picture following their pool play games this past Sunday at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship. The Gold team went 2-1 in pool play action, then split their four playoff games while the 10-Under team failed to win a game in their first trip to the end of the summer event.


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

FOUNTAIN VALLEY-Bob Medina, the longtime manager of the Artesia Punishers Gold travel softball team, was hoping to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of winning his only national championship with another one. But his team found that winning three straight games in the loser’s bracket on consecutive days was going to be a tall task.

The Punishers were limited to four hits against the (Sacramento) Stingers and were blanked 3-0 this past Wednesday afternoon at the Fountain Valley Sports Park in the first of three potential consecutive games. The Punishers would have needed to win two more this past Wednesday, then three straight the next day to advance to today’s championship game.

“The game was tough,” Medina said. “We left a lot of runners on base and [were] trying to come up with the clutch [hits]. I kept telling the kids that we have runners on and all we have to do is score a run and we can deflate that team. It didn’t happen; they stood in there long enough and they kept it in long enough and we made bad decisions at [the plate].”

In the top of the first inning, shortstop Yamila Evans (San Marino High/Siena College) was hit by a pitch, advanced to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a sacrifice from catcher Anessa Quiroz (San Pedro High). That was followed by a walk issued to center fielder Amanda Canizales (Whittier High/California State University, Dominguez Hills) and after she stole second, the Punishers were looking good. But a strikeout and a groundout would end the scoring threat.

In the next inning, designated player Samantha Ramirez (Villa Park High/North Carolina A&T University) singled, went to second on a sacrifice from pitcher Brianna Garrett (Quartz Hill High/Siena College) and to third on a single from right fielder Alianna Orduna (Villa Park High/Manhattanville College). But again, the Punishers couldn’t capitalize as a groundout ended that opportunity.

The Punishers would get a runner on base in each of the next two innings but nothing would come out of it. Meanwhile, the Stingers got the only run they needed in the bottom of the third when Katelyn Snow’s sacrifice fly plated Adriana Chavez.

The Punishers would have two last cracks of getting on the board in the final two innings. After second baseman Samantha Mancillas (Santa Fe High) singled to lead off the sixth, she would be doubled up when third baseman Samantha Noriega (Carson High) lined out to shortstop Natalie Nash to end the inning. Nash would do the same in the final inning when Garrett singled with one out and was replaced by courtesy runner Kieren Lopez (Bakersfield Frontier High). Orduna would end the game with a sharp line drive to Nash, who doubled up Lopez.

“Their shortstop was phenomenal,” Medina said. “We had Brianna Bernal (Roosevelt High) on our team and in preseason, she was lights out at shortstop. I think it would have really completed our team. We lost her [in a pool play game]; she got hit in the wrist and thought it was a fracture. But it’s a severe bruise. If we had here, I think we would have been solid.

“I think the way it works is the team with the strongest shortstop has the advantage,” Medina continued. “Of course, they had a great shortstop. She made great plays.”

Garrett went the distance, the first complete game by a Punishers hurler in the tournament, yielding five hits and striking out five while allowing just one unearned run. Medina added that his team was in a perfect predicament for the three games this past Wednesday with Garrett and Evans getting the call before, as he said, ‘go back to the drawing board with everyone else’.

After going 2-1 in pool play action, with a pair of shutouts, the Punishers opened action for real with a 3-1 victory over the (Villa Park) Firecrackers Ensey-Stream this past Tuesday morning. The big blow was a two-out, two-run home run from first baseman Jessi Alvarado (Gahr High) in the top of the fourth that broke a 1-1 tie. For Alvarado, it was her third career home run at any level.

The Firecrackers struck first in the bottom of the second when Kalena Shepherd reached on a fielder’s choice and eventually scored when Maiah Lopez was safe on an error. But in the next inning, the Punishers would tie the contest. Left fielder Angie Porcayo (Bellflower High/Spokane College) was hit by a pitch and came home two outs later on a single from Evans. In the next inning with one out, Chrys Hildebrand walked Canizales and following a flyout, Alvarado came up with the centerfield blast on a 1-2 count.

The Punishers were held to five hits by five different players while DeAndria Lockett (Hawthorne Math and Science Academy/La Sierra College) worked the final five innings of one-hit ball, striking out six and retiring the final nine batters of the game,

Immediately after the game, the Punishers took an early two-run lead against the (Elk Grove) Batbusters-Cervellin but eventually fell 5-3 in eight innings to drop into the loser’s bracket. With one out in the bottom of the first, Quiroz singled to right and was replaced by courtesy runner Trinity Seguritan (Kahuku High, Kahuku, HI). Now with two outs, Canizales reached on an error and both runners moved on a wild pitch. Up came Mancillas, who singled to center to drive in both runners.

After the Batbusters cut their deficit in half in the next inning, the Punishers regained their two-run lead when Alvarado singled and scored on a base hit from third baseman Alexis Lopez (Los Osos High). After that, the Punishers would have several opportunities to score but stranded five runners on base over the final five innings.

Meanwhile, the Batbusters scored once in the third and again in the fourth to tie the game. Then in the eighth inning, Emily Orr doubled in a pair of runs which proved to be the game-clinching tallies. In the bottom of the eighth and with Seguritan on second, the next three batters failed to advance her to third.

Against the Batbusters, the Punishers had a runner thrown out at home for the last out in the first and fourth innings and had runners at second and third with one out in the sixth and failed to score.

“I told the girls that no matter what, we were going to play aggressive,” Medina said. “When you’re in big tournaments like this, you have to do what’s not predictable. And we’re going to push it. The ball is thrown left, the ball is thrown right and we win and they don’t. I think not putting the ball down on the bunts was really killing us.”

The Punishers rebounded later in the night by eliminating the (San Dimas) Ohana Tigers 5-3. After spotting the Tigers a pair of runs after half an inning, they got on the board immediately when Evans singled to right and went to third on an error on the same play. Following an out, Evans scored when Canizales singled to right.

In the third, Canizales doubled to right, was sacrificed to third by Mancillas and scored on a double from Alvarado. That was followed by a base hit from Noriega. After a pitching change, Ramirez crushed a three-run home run to center. While the Punishers wouldn’t get another hit the remainder of the game, the defense held up while Lockett (1.2 innings pitched, two hits allowed) and Evens (three innings, four hits) escaped damage to preserve the victory.

“It’s amazing,” Medina said, referring to Ramirez’ home run. “In the batting cages a couple of days ago, I told them all it’s like a carpenter. A carpenter has a tool box and if he needs a hammer, he’s going to use a hammer. If he doesn’t need a measuring tape, he’s not going to use it today. He might need it tomorrow. I said, ‘there’s going to be a point in time in this game where Sam Ramirez is going to come up and is going to hit a home run’. Getting in that predicament and her having that opportunity I think was really nice.”

The defensive gem of the game came in the fourth when Alvarado came up the first base line and dove forward to catch a bunt that was popped up in foul territory from Ashlei Sanchez. In that same inning, Lockett would strike out Destiny Reyes with the bases loaded.

The Punishers Gold team figures to be better next year as Medina will lose only six players due to graduation. Factor in the 13 players who will graduate next season, plus any newcomers to the team and the other younger players who were on the roster for the PGF National Championship, Medina predicts a better showing for next season.

The pitching will be strong with Evans, Lockett, Quincy Greenwood (San Pedro High), who didn’t pitch in the tournament, and Kristen Lucas (Roosevelt High) while the offense is slated to get stronger with Evans, Quiroz, Canizales, Mancillas and Alvarado at the top of the lineup. Those five combined to go 13 for 58 in the four playoff games while the rest of the Punishers combined for 13 hits.

“The pitching staff that I had was huge,” Medina said. “I wish I could have just exposed every one of them for the talents that they have because every one of them…they are a number one pitcher for any given team. I wasn’t worried about the pitching. I was worried about execution.

“Next season, we already have some prospects coming up,” he added. “We already have some people who knocked on the door and want to come and add to the team. We plan on taking a run at PGF and try to do everything we can to win it.”