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USSSA FAR WEST NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP : Artesia Punishers 16-U group begin pool play with a shutout, end with a blowout loss

Artesia Punishers 16-Under pitcher Katherine Serna (St. Paul High) was the story for her team’s first pool play game in the United States Specialty Sports Association Far West National Championship this past Tuesday morning. Serna struck out nine batters, gave up three hits and walked one as the Punishers, coached by Joe Fletcher, blanked the (South Central Los Angeles) Southern California Monarchs 6-0. It was the only pool play win for the Punishers in three attempts. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer


By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

CHINO HILLS-It doesn’t happen a lot in the world of travel softball where a first-year team plays in as few as two tournaments since the beginning of June and still qualifies for a season and summer-ending championship tournament. But that’s what is starting the Artesia Punishers 16-Under team, coached by Joe Fletcher, as his team kicked off the United States Specialty Sports Association Far West National Championship with three pool play games earlier this week.

The Punishers split a pair of games this past Tuesday at Big League Dreams in Chino Hills, blanking the (South Central Los Angeles) Southern California Monarchs 6-0 in the morning, then falling to the (Brawley) E1 Prospects 5-4 early in the afternoon. Then this past Wednesday morning, the Punishers were crushed by the (Fontana) Southern California Ruthless-Eklund 13-4.

“The tournament we won almost a month ago, we came from behind to do it,” Fletcher said. “The next tournament, we were down, came from behind to rally before coming up short. The girls…they fight, and they stay in there. They made some adjustments with their at-bats in terms of where they were in the box.”

The story of the game against the Monarchs was pitcher Katherine Serna (St. Paul High), who returned to the Punishers last week and threw a three-hitter, striking out nine and walking one in five innings of work.

Serna retired 11 of the first 12 batters she faced, walking only Leslie Houston with one out in the top of the second inning. She would get all the run support she needed in the bottom of the first as the Punishers pushed across four runs.


Shortstop Emily Corona (Garfield High) of the Artesia Punishers 16-Under team, coached by Joe Fletcher, tries to tag out a (Brawley) E1 Prospects baserunner before getting back to second base in the second pool play game of the United States Specialty Sports Association Far West National Championship this past Tuesday afternoon. The Punishers would lose 5-4 and ended up going 1-2 in pool play action. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer



Brittany Litwa began the bottom of the first inning by walking center fielder Mikala Fletcher (Downey High) before shortstop Robbie Gallegos (St. Joseph High) reached third base on a throwing error. A walk to right fielder Krista Guzman (Schurr High) and a single from left fielder Emily Rodriguez (El Rancho High) made it 3-0 and two batters later, a sacrifice fly from second baseman Alondra Gonzalez (Legacy High) increased the margin to 4-0. The Punishers were aided by two errors in the frame as Guzman came home on the second one.

Guzman led off the third with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and came home on a base hit from Rodriguez. Two pitches later, catcher Racine Ruacho (El Rancho High) doubled and after a pop-up, Rodriguez scored on a sacrifice fly from first baseman Savanna Cervantes (El Rancho High).

The Monarchs made it interesting in the fifth when Houston and Jasmine Smith each singled and Litwa reached on a fielder’s choice. But Serna preserved the shutout by striking out the final two batters she faced.

“She played with us in January and February a couple of games,” Joe Fletcher said. “When we broke for high school, her family decided to pursue and look at other options. That happens in softball. She came back, and she’s played [before] with a couple of girls on our team in rec ball and some other teams.

“So, she was done with her [travel team’s] season and was looking to play,” he continued. “We knew she was a very good pitcher and she’s actually a second-year 14. But she’s a high-quality pitcher and she showed that today. She can control a game.”

It would be a completely different story in the second game as the E1 Prospects scored four times in the top of the first inning and held on for the one-run win. The Punishers would score four unanswered runs and had the go-ahead run on second base in the bottom of the fourth.


Second baseman Alondra Gonzalez (Legacy High) of the Artesia Punishers 16-Under team, coached by Joe Fletcher, safely steals second base in the bottom of the second inning against the (Brawley) E1 Prospects this past Tuesday afternoon in a pool play game of the United States Specialty Sports Association Far West National Championship. Gonzalez would later score in the inning but the Punishers fell short in a 5-4 decision. PHOTO BY ARMANDO VARGAS, Contributing photographer


“[The E1 Prospects] were coming right off a game,” Joe Fletcher said. “They were swinging and seeing pitches. I took over the pitch calling; normally the catchers call the game. Sometimes it’s a different look. She just wasn’t sharp, and they took advantage of it. But after that, we gave up one run and we kind of got it back under control. It’s just that we waited too late to put together some hits.”

Down 5-0, the Punishers got things going in the second when Rodriguez, Ruacho, Gonzalez and Cervantes all singled. However, Rodriguez was called out for leaving first base too early and Cervantes was doubled up alter a sharp line drive out by third baseman Briana Moran (Huntington Park High).

Two innings later, and with one out, Rodriguez launched a solo home run over the left center fence. Ruacho then singled and one out later, Cervantes had a base hit before Moran was walked to load the bases. Melody Cardoza then walked shortstop Emily Corona (Garfield High) to make it 5-4.

“We had a runner leave early and she would have scored,” Joe Fletcher said of missed scoring opportunities. “That’s a run that we lost. We had another runner in the fourth inning where there was a passed ball and she didn’t read it right. That’s another run. If you take those two runs, we win 6-5. We, as much as anything, kind of made life a little more difficult on ourselves than we should have. But sometimes that happens, and you have to fight back from that.”

Starting pitcher Michelle Sheedy (North Torrance High) was greeted rudely by the E1 Prospects as, within the first 13 pitches thrown, the first two batters singled and the next two doubled. But after giving up a base hit to Brianda Rodriguez with two outs in the second, which made it 5-0, she allowed one hit and walked two over the final 13 batters she faced.

This past Wednesday, the Punishers were shorthanded as three players missed action because of summer school. As a result, the team managed a pair of runs in the top of the third and fourth innings while yielding eight in the bottom of the fourth.

“That’s going to be a little bit of a challenge,” Joe Fletcher said this past Tuesday on the final pool play game. “But like I told the team, the girls who are here have to step up and lay it out there and play hard. Then when those girls who are missing come back on Thursday, they better come and bring the intensity and the quality that we need. But that’s why you play in pool play and you play in friendlies for girls to get reps and to play and to get out there because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Second baseman Kailani Fletcher (Downey High) singled with one out in the third, stole second, went to third on a sacrifice and came home on a base hit from Gallegos. Two pitches later, a single from Guzman cut their deficit to 4-2. After the Ruthless added a run in the third, Ruacho, Gonzalez and Cervantes all singled to load the bases. Moran then came up and drove in a pair of runs with a base hit.

By finishing in third place in their pool, the Punishers faced the second place team in the opposite pool on July 20 in the double elimination playoffs. They would be assured a second game on that day and with two straight wins, would move into Saturday’s semifinals. A loss in either game would mean the Punishers would have a long road to the championship game in the loser’s bracket.

“That’s obviously our plan, to make the path as easy as possible,” Joe Fletcher said. “That’s why we want to get as good as a seeding as possible to hopefully navigate our way to [the championship game].”