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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA QUALIFIER: Artesia Punishers 18-Under squad takes very early exit in qualifying tournament


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

HEMET-On his way up to the Diamond Valley Sports Complex last Friday afternoon, Artesia Punishers 18-Under head coach Bob Medina thought his team could win the Premier Girls Fastpitch Southern California Qualifier, which would clinch an automatic berth to the PGF National Championships next month. But what he witnessed was something uncharacteristic of any of his teams.

The Punishers failed to win a game at the So Cal Qualifier for the second time ever, and the second time in three years, losing to the (San Diego) Breakers Labs 4-2 last Friday evening and then the (Clovis) Central California Dirt Dogs Gorton 7-2 last Saturday morning. The Punishers were coming off a 2-2-1 performance the previous week at the Triple Crown Sports Zoom Into June Tournament.

“The early exit is very disappointing to me,” Medina said. “This is probably bar none my best team. I just don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s senioritis. You get all the seniors together and they’re out there. The fact that they’re just kind of lackadaisical, letting the ball drop between second and third…give me some energy.”

The Punishers were down 1-0 after two innings but got on the board in the bottom of the third and it started with right fielder Sierra Sandoval (San Pedro High) singling to right field. After a sacrifice and a strikeout, left fielder Yamila Evans (San Marino High, Siena College) singled to center and advanced to second on an error. On the next pitch, she came home on a single from designated player Anessa Quiroz (San Pedro High, Monroe College).

After that, the Punishers would collect just one more hit in the game while the Dirt Dogs tied the contest in the next inning on a run-scoring double from Analiese Raley. The big blow would come in the fifth when Sydney Kuma, who had scored the tying run, smashed a grand slam over the centerfield fence.

“Once we get going, this team can score,” Medina said. “I don’t care if there are two outs. Last week we had two outs three or four times and we scored our runs and we came back. So, the girls knew that. It’s doable and I do have a team that can do it. We just have to get everybody on all cylinders working like an engine.”

The Punishers, who are now a combined 17-16 in PGF So Cal Qualifier games since the PGF started business in 2010, were trailing the Breakers 1-0 after half an inning last Friday night before rallying for their lone runs in the bottom half of the frame. Staci Chambers walked Evans on four pitches and walked Quiroz on seven pitches. A single to left from third baseman Samantha Noriega (Carson High) loaded the bases for shortstop Stephanie Jimenez, whose sacrifice plated Evans. Sandoval, who was a courtesy runner for Quiroz, would come home on a wild pitch. Right fielder Alexis Lopez (Los Osos High, Mitchell College) and first baseman Jessi Alvarado (Gahr High, Manhattanville College) would also single in the inning but the Punishers couldn’t get any more across home plate.

Over the next four innings, the Punishers would have seven runners on base, but none got past second base. Meanwhile, the Breakers scored three runs in the top of the third with Alyssa Wenzel reaching on a one-out error, followed by a double from Alyssa Vilke and a two-out double from Chambers. All the runs were unearned as Evans struck out two, walked one and scattered seven hits.

“We were lacking one outfielder and I put the hitters instead of the outfielders in there and that was our choice yesterday,” Medina said shortly after the game with the Dirt Dogs. “Yesterday was very unfortunate. Today, I was hoping to come out a little more aggressive.

“I was so happy about the pitching,” Medina later said of last week. “That’s why I said we could win [it all]. We just had to put our defense together, and we did that. We worked every day this week, to work on our defense. And our defense did a lot better, I believe, than [in Chino Hills].”

Now, the Punishers will have one last chance to gain an automatic berth to the PGF National Championships, which comes on Saturday and Sunday in the Las Vegas Qualifier. The Punishers face the (North Tustin) California Blues at 8:00 a.m. with the winner to play the (Covina) California Panthers at 9:45. The Punishers could play anywhere from two to nine games in triple digit heat.

“We’re going to Vegas, regardless,” Medina said. “We have a few kids who can’t make it out there in Vegas, so that’s going to be unfortunate. We’re going to have to deal with whatever elements…the heat and everything like that that’s going to be out there. It’s going to be what it’s going to be. These girls have to get some fight, some orneriness and get out there and leave it on the field instead of waiting for somebody else to do it.”