_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES _______________________


AFA SOUTHWESTERN NATIONALS:  Artesia Punishers 16-U squad end tournament on bad note after strong start


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter • September 3, 2020

ST. GEORGE, UTAH-The Artesia Punishers 16-Under travel softball team was one of the hottest teams through the first two days of action in the American Fastpitch Association Southwestern Nationals in St. George, Utah. The Punishers, one of 32 teams in this age division to compete in the rare late-August event, won all three pool play games last Thursday and Friday by a difference of 34 runs.

Once the playoffs began last Saturday night, it was a completely different story as the Punishers fell to the [La Habra] Southern California Athletics-Jendro/Wayne 9-3. That was followed by a 7-2 setback to the [Chino Hills] California Bombers-AK in a game that finished beyond 12:30 this past Sunday morning.

“I think, what happens in softball, is that when you get a team that’s red hot, they get turned up and they start playing,” said Artesia Punishers manager Jesus Mendoza. “Then when you get these long gaps before playing, sometimes you go cold and you have to pick up the heat again and get back into the rhythm.

“Because of the heat we had out here, we had to play early games or late games,” he continued. “The gap and the game play sometimes take effect as well. But the teams we lost to were better teams. Sometimes you win them and sometimes you lose them.”

The Punishers were quickly in a 2-0 hole after half an inning against the Athletics but got one of those runs back in their half of the inning. Left fielder Taylor Parriott (Los Alamitos High) singled to right and stole second. Two outs later, she came home on a fielder’s choice from third baseman Sierra Sandoval (San Pedro High).

After that, the Athletics continued to batter starting pitcher Onnika Haughey (Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa High) and relief pitcher Valerie Jorgensen (Pacifica High), who was the starting first baseman, to the tune of five more hits and seven more runs over the next four innings. The Punishers wouldn’t score again until the bottom of the fifth inning when center fielder Alexa Diaz (Cerritos High) was walked on four pitches and Parriott singled and advanced on an error, allowing Diaz to score as well as Parriott.

“There were a lot of runners left in scoring position,” Mendoza said. “We had opportunities to get them in, but it just didn’t happen. There were a couple of times where we could have tagged up from third and it just didn’t happen. The girls tried their best; they did their best and left it on the field.”

After the game, which started at 7:00 p.m., the Punishers had to relocate from Bloomington Park and make their way to Canyon Sports Complex for an elimination game that was scheduled to be played at 10:50. After a minor delay due to the length of the previous game, the Punishers again fell behind quick and couldn’t recover in the 7-2 loss. The Punishers yielded two runs in the top of the first inning, one in the second and four in the third.

The lone tallies for the Punishers came in the bottom of the second inning when catcher Allyza Camacho (Warren High) was walked and courtesy runner Ariana Hernandez (Lakewood High) scored on a two-out single from Parriott. In the next inning, Sandoval led off with a base hit to left and with two outs, came home on a double from Camacho. In a span of roughly five and a half hours, the Punishers collected eight hits after getting 33 in the three pool play games.

Last Thursday, the Punishers rallied from a 6-0 deficit after half an inning, a 7-3 deficit after an inning and a half and an 8-7 hole heading into the bottom of the third inning to escape with a 9-8 win over the [Gilroy] Suncats. In the bottom of the third, shortstop Lexi De Leon was walked, Camacho singled to center and pinch hitter Leiloni Pina (Cerritos High) singled to left to load the bases. After a strikeout, right fielder Angelina Mendoza was hit by a pitch and De Leon came home with the tying run. Following another strikeout, Jorgensen singled to right, allowing Camacho to score the winning run.

Last Friday afternoon, the Punishers flexed their muscles to the tune of a 25-1 win over the Southern California Bash. Jorgensen and Sandoval each went three for five and drove in six runs while Camacho and Parriott each added a pair of hits. Jorgensen also pitched four innings of three-hit ball and struck out three.

The Punishers wrapped up pool play action last Friday night with a 10-2 win over the (Salt Lake City) Bad To The Bone as they scored three times in the bottom of the second, fourth and fifth innings. Jorgensen went three for four while seven other players all collected one hit. Haughey went six strong innings, allowing two hits and struck out half a dozen. The 44 runs scored in the three pool play games were the most by any 16-Under team and 12 more than the next team.

“They came out wanting to play,” Mendoza said. “They played aggressively. Sierra Sandoval had a home run, Carla Hollins (Santa Monica High) had a home run, Taylor Parriott had a home run, and they just came out on fire. They were aggressive, they wanted to play, and they came out all gung ho to do it.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic that began nearly half a year ago, this was the only Artesia Punishers team to have played in a tournament. The other teams couldn’t find one to get into because of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the 16-Under team was slated to play in the Premier Girls Fastpitch Las Vegas Qualifier, the PGF Southern California Qualifier, a Surf City Tourneys event earlier in the summer and an USA Preps tournament, originally scheduled for Las Vegas but later moved to Utah, according to head coach Joseph Alvarez.

The team was also in Mesquite, Nevada from July 24-26 at the C4 Summer Showcase where 20-25 colleges showed up. Coaches from Bryant and Stratton College, La Sierra University and Menlo College, to name a few, were on hand to look at some of the Punishers. The team went 1-1 in pool play action, then lost all three games out of the Gold bracket of the playoffs. The Punishers were one of 16 teams participating in the 16-Under division.

“If [head coach] Joseph [Alvarez] would have not attempted to try to get the girls out there, those opportunities wouldn’t have been there for the girls,” Mendoza said. “I give a lot of credit to Joseph for pushing and getting these tournaments in.”

But, as far as any form of a national tournament, the AFA Southwestern Nationals was the only one the Punishers were able to participate in. Mendoza applauded Alvarez for being driven to get the girls on the field.

“It was very difficult,” Mendoza said. “We had a hard time finding practice facilities because of the whole COVID situation. We did find a couple in Buena Park; we started playing there and then they got closed down because of COVID. We did try to get some tournaments in in [Las] Vegas and Mesquite, Nevada. [But] those got cancelled out because of COVID. We tried to find friendlies when we could. We tried our best to get our girls out on the field to be seen and played and play the sport that they love.”

Since March, just about everything has been out of normal, including the travel softball world in which your major national tournaments are held either in late July or early August. For a tournament of this magnitude, or any tournament for that matter, to be played in late August is unprecedented as most of August is relegated travel teams getting set up for the next season. Plus, the girls are already back in school.

“It was difficult to try to plan this tournament because I knew it was going to go into school year,” Alvarez said. “But because the girls are determined to play, we decided to go ahead and play [in] it. The girls want to play. They don’t want to sit around, and knowing that this was the nationals, they felt they should go out and play.”