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TRIPLE CROWN SPORTS RED, WHITE AND BLUE TOURNAMENT: Newest Artesia Punishers 16-U team ready for Western Nationals in first season

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


IRVINE-The Artesia Punishers 16-Under travel softball team, coached by Joe Fletcher, hasn’t been around too long. But one week after wrapping up a spot in the United States Specialty Sports Association Far West National Championship, the team was back on the field competing in the Triple Crown Sports Red, White and Blue Tournament.


Artesia Punishers 16-U shortstop Robbi Gallegos (St. Joseph High) tries to apply a tag on a (West Covina) Lakewood Firecrackers-Ray baserunner, but to no avail. The Firecrackers stole eight bases in a 13-2 victory. Photos by Armando Vargas.


The Punishers went 1-2 in pool play action last Saturday at Bill Barber Park, then split a pair of single elimination playoff games this past Sunday at Mark Daily Park and at Harvard Park. It’s just the second tournament the new team has played in this summer, in addition to several friendlies.

“This tournament has had a lot of different motions; up, down, from being beat down to doing the beat down to rallying back,” Fletcher said. “But this team is kind of newly formed. We have a core; we just added three or four pieces. So, they’ve grown up the last three weeks. They’ve played together, finding out how tough they are, how resilient they are. Sometimes with a new team, they have some ups and downs. But the one thing they do is fight; they never quit, and that’s what you want. They never feel they’re out of a game.”


First baseman Emily Corona (Garfield High) of the Artesia Punishers 16-U Fletcher travel softball team thought she was safe at home in the top of the fourth inning against the (Atascadero) High Tide in the Triple Crown Sports Red, White and Blue Tournament, but the umpires called her out. The Punishers went on to rout the High Tide 14-0.


This past Sunday, the Punishers led the (Northridge) Firestormz-Ramirez 3-0, only to blow the lead before edging out a 4-3 decision. It didn’t take long for the scoring to begin as center fielder Mikala Fletcher (Downey High) doubled to the right field gap on the second pitch of the game, moved to third on an infield hit from shortstop Robbi Gallegos (St. Joseph High). After a single from left fielder Emily Rodriguez (El Rancho High) loaded the bases, catcher Racine Ruacho (El Rancho High) doubled in a pair of runs. With two outs in the next inning, Mikala Fletcher singled to right and came home on a double from right fielder Krista Guzman (Schurr High).

Through the first three innings, pitcher Michelle Sheedy (North Torrance High) was solid, giving up three hits, walking one and not allowing a runner to get past second. But in the bottom of the fourth, she surrendered three unearned runs. She settled down over the next two innings, throwing 30 pitches, giving up a hit, walking one and striking out one.


Artesia Punishers 16-U center fielder Mikala Fletcher (Downey High) takes a swing during one of her two at-bats against the (West Covina) Lakewood Firecrackers-Ray last Saturday afternoon in the Triple Crown Sports Red, White and Blue Tournament.



Meanwhile, the game-winning run was scored in the fifth when Gallegos singled and came home when Ruacho was safe on an error. The Punishers pounded out 11 hits with Mikala Fletcher going three for four.

The Punishers were to face the Cal A’s (Aiea) Hawai’i-Higuchi a few hours later the same field. However, 20 minutes before game time, a swarm of bees congregated just beyond the left center fence and after a delay, tournament officials moved the game to Harvard Park. Nearly an hour later, the game began and the Cal A’s scored once in the bottom of the first and four more the next inning for a 5-1 win. One of the three hits the Punishers got in the contest came in the third when Guzman and Gallegos were walked before Rodriguez singled in the former.

In the next inning, second baseman Alondra Gonzalez (Legacy High) singled and first baseman Savanna Cervantes (El Rancho High) was walked. However, the next three batters were retired and the game ended.

“I don’t like to use those as excuses because things happen,” Joe Fletcher said of the delay. “You have to be ready to play wherever, whenever it’s time. The other team had the same thing and it didn’t seem to bother them. It’s just another thing; I’ve never been part of a bee delay.”

The first game of the tournament didn’t go so well as the Punishers were slammed by the (West Covina) Lakewood Firecrackers-Ray 13-2. Artesia was held to four hits and committed five errors. After the Punishers tied the game in the bottom of the second on a solo home run from Rodriguez, the Firecrackers exploded for seven runs in the third and five more in the fourth. The other Punishers run came in the fourth on a Ruacho home run.

Immediately after that game, the Punishers blasted the (Atascadero) High Tide 14-0 behind a 12-hit attack. Everyone in the lineup either had a hit or scored a run as the Punishers scored five runs in the top of the third and nine in the fourth. Cervantes, Mikala Fletcher, Gallegos and Rodriguez all had a pair of hits and Gallegos drove in three runs.

The nightcap saw the Punishers trail the (Bellevue) WA Vipers 7-1 after two innings. But a furious rally in the bottom of the third came up short in a 7-6 loss. With one out, Deyja Chatman (Serra High) was walked and came home on a triple from Mikala Fletcher. Later in the inning, Rodriguez and Ruacho had back to back run-scoring doubles. Cervantes would then be hit by a pitch and a single from Alondra Gonzalez made it 7-6.


Emily Rodriguez (El Rancho High) of the Artesia Punishers 16-U travel softball team rounds second after hitting a home run in the top of the third inning against the against the (Atascadero) High Tide in the Triple Crown Sports Red, White and Blue Tournament.


“Coming back from the first game yesterday when we got blown out, and then showing that we can be that type of team too,” Joe Fletcher said of the positives from the tournament. “That first game, we were flat. It just didn’t seem like we had the emotion that it took to compete. But they came back and showed who they are when they’re at their best.”

The Punishers, who went 1-2 in pool play action of the Fathers Are Forever Cup 1-2 the previous week, rallied for a pair of one-run victories in the playoffs to earn the berth in the USSSA Far West National Championship next month. But before that, they will compete in the Surf City Summer Showcase July 6-8. The USSSA Far West National Championships will take place July 16-22.

“It speaks to the girls in their ability to come together as a team,” Joe Fletcher said. “They’re a good group of girls away from the field. When you get new girls coming in, they’re trying to get comfortable and they’re trying to prove themselves. The girls who were already part of the core are trying to demonstrate that we are a good team.