_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________         EBOOK


USSSA FAR WEST NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP –  Artesia Punishers 16-Under team victimized by lack of offense, lose three of four playoff games

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


CHINO HILLS-Joe Fletcher, the head coach of his first-year Artesia Punishers 16-Under travel softball team admitted his team played their worst on defense last week than they had all summer. The worst part about that was that it came during the United States Specialty Sports Association Far West National Championship, held at Big League Dreams in Chino Hills.

“I can’t even think of a close second,” he said following the second of four games played last Thursday. “We’re talking about routine plays…and it just compounds the struggle for the pitcher. You get to two outs, then you make a mistake.”

After going through pool play 1-2, the Punishers, who finished last out of the eight 16-Under teams participating in the tournament, had one bad inning against the (Glendora) Southern California Ruthless-Bustos and it cost them in an 8-1 setback in the first playoff game. All eight runs were scored with two outs and two of those six runs, which came in the bottom of the second inning, were unearned.

After the Ruthless sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning, the Punishers tried to make some two-out damage themselves in the top of the third. Michelle Sheedy (North Torrance High) and Robbie Gallegos (St. Joseph High) each singled but were stranded there. After the Ruthless added to their lead in the bottom half of the inning, pitcher Alondra Gonzalez (Legacy High) singled, left fielder Emily Rodriguez (El Rancho High) doubled and right fielder Krista Guzman (Schurr High) hit a sacrifice fly to account for the lone run. That would be the extent of the offense in that game for the Punishers, who also committed three errors.

Immediately after that game, the Punishers fell behind the Salinas Wildcats 5-0 after two innings and couldn’t catch up in a 7-4 loss. This time, three of the seven runs were scored with two outs and the Punishers added four more errors to their defensive woes.

“It’s frustrating because some of those outs are easy outs,” Joe Fletcher said. “If you give a team four outs, five outs, they’re going to score. It just keeps compounding itself and like I said, now the pitcher has to make more pitches. Then, when you’re not scoring, it becomes more disheartening.

“Yeah, it’s a rare phenomenon when you get two outs relatively easy and then the third out, you lose it,” he continued. “Softball is a game where you’re not out until you get three outs and the other team is taking advantage of it and we aren’t.”

After stranding three runners on base in the first two innings, including center fielder Mikala Fletcher (Downey High) at third in the bottom of the first, the Punishers got on the board in the third when Karla Rivera walked Gallegos to lead off the frame. Two batters later, Rodriguez singled and the two runners would advance home and to third respectively on a wild pitch. Then with two outs, Rodriguez came home on another wild pitch.

But the Wildcats got those two runs back in the top of the fourth before staving off a furious two-out rally in the bottom of the fourth. Third baseman Briana Moran (Huntington Park High) doubled and designated player Emily Corona (Garfield High), the ninth batter in the lineup, smacked a home run over the left center fence. That was followed by another walk to Gallegos and one to Mikala Fletcher before Rodriguez flied out to end the game.

Normally, that would have been the end for the Punishers in the tournament. But because of an unusual set of tournament rules, this event was triple elimination for most teams instead of double elimination. So, after a game break, the Punishers met the Colorado Rockettes and eliminated the team from Thornton 14-11 in a wild slugfest that went to the international tiebreaker rule.

The Punishers took a 3-0 lead after half an inning when Rodriguez came up with a bases-loaded single. But the Rockettes quickly tied the game before the Punishers took a 4-3 lead in the second. The Rockettes would tie the game in the third but the Punishers regained the lead in their half of the third when Gonzalez, first baseman Savanna Cervantes (El Rancho High) and Moran all singled with two outs, In the next inning, the Rockettes pushed across three runs before the Punishers kept the tug-of-war battle going by tying the contest as Gallegos and Rodriguez had back to back doubles with Mikala Fletcher scoring the first of those two runs.

After a scoreless fifth, the game went into the international tiebreaker rule where the Punishers exploded for seven runs on four hits, the biggest one coming when Rodriguez smacked a three-run home run. She and Moran each went three for four and every starter in the Punishers lineup scored at least one run.

The tournament would end for the Punishers in the next game as they were easily handled by the Ruthless again, this time 11-1. The Punishers scored their lone run in the top of the sixth as Mikala Fletcher tripled with two outs and came home on a single from Guzman. In the seven games played in the USSSA Far West National Championship, the Punishers were outscored 55-34. But in the five losses, that figure was 44-14. The Punishers also played against six of the other seven 16-Under teams.

“Pretty much lack of offense,” Joe Fletcher said of most of the tournament. “If you’re not scoring and putting pressure on the other team, it’s just hard for your offense to try everything out. We also had a lot of errors; more so today. They didn’t show up when they needed to.”

The 12-Under team, coached by Andy Macias went winless in pool play action at Big League Dreams in Perris Valley, getting outscored 32-18, and sent to the Silver bracket. From there, the Punishers were a different team, winning two straight games to advance to the semifinals last Saturday. From there, the Punishers were sent to the loser’s bracket, stayed alive with another win before falling to the (San Diego) The Next Level in the championship game, 8-7, for the second time in the day.

The Punishers defeated the (San Gabriel Valley) Southern California Sandlots 12-5 and (North Hollywood) Firecrackers-Torres 5-1 last Thursday. Then on Saturday, the Punishers fell to The Next Level 8-7 before eliminating the Sandlots 4-1.