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CHAMPIONS CUP: Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team has decisions to make as PGF National Championship begins

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter


IRVINE-The Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team, coached by Bobby Medina, wrapped up its final tune-up before moving onto the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship and despite earning an automatic berth to the summer’s top event, there are still questions to be answered. The Punishers competed in the Champions Cup last week and won three of seven games and while the team is relatively young, Medina still has not decided on a solid starting lineup for the PGF National Championship, which begins on Saturday with pool play action that has no bearing on the double elimination playoff portion.

“We were trying to get everybody in and show off the kids for the exposure and also at the same time prepare for the PGF,” Medina said. “It’s very important for us to try and balance the two. It’s hard; it’s super hard [with] 26 kids.”

The Punishers began pool play action of the Champions Cup last Wednesday morning with a 7-5 loss to the (Tracy) All American Sports Academy-Macias followed by a 3-0 win over the (Tucson) AZ Cats later in the afternoon. The next morning, the Punishers were edged by the (San Marcos) Breakers-Labs2-1. Last Friday morning, the Punishers bounced back to defeat the (Edmonds) Washington Rush 4-1 before ending pool play action with a 3-0 loss to the (Stockton) Batbusters-Gomes/Clark later in the day.

The Punishers opened the single elimination playoff portion with a 9-1 victory over the (Redlands) Minors Gold last Saturday morning at the Orange County Great Park as a five-run bottom of the first inning paved the way for the big win. Three walks within the first four batters loaded the bases before catcher Kaylia Birdsong (La Habra High) singled in a pair of runs. Then singles from third baseman Skylar Liebrecht (St. Joseph High), shortstop Jennifer Aguilar (Santa Fe High/Howard College) and right fielder Sophie Little (Culver City High) capped off the scoring for the inning.

Two more runs would come across in the bottom of the second inning as center fielder Mikala Fletcher (Downey High) and second baseman Ariana Hamilton (Downey High) singled before first baseman Yasmine Castellanos (California High/St. Lawrence College) singled in a run. Fletcher would also add a run-scoring double in the next inning.

However, the Punishers would see their weekend end abruptly with a 9-1 setback to their sister team from Las Vegas last Saturday afternoon. Medina’s team was limited to a pair of hits-one by Fletcher and a double by Aguilar.

“One of my biggest things and biggest problems I think that we had this year was getting the berth early on and not going to the PGF [Qualifiers] and qualifying at that competitive level and elimination brackets,” Medina said. “Usually we have five elimination brackets by then. Now, we have one. I think it was a little difficult to try and get the mojo going for the kids, not [the coaching staff].”

“I’ve been bouncing people in and out, in and out, in and out and some of them are doing good, some of them are performing, some of them are not,” he later said. “I give them several chances so that it’s not a fluke and I miss it. So, I want to make sure that I do have it. Probably in pool play, I’ll do the same. I have to do the same; I have two more I have to look at still.”