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TRIPLE CROWN SPORTS 16-UNDER WORLD SERIES: Consistency missing from Artesia Punishers 16-U Gonzales team in pool play action

July 15, 2021

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKOpff on Twitter


ESCONDIDO-Days after the Artesia Punishers 16-Under travel softball team coached by Leo Amaya struggled at the Champions Cup in Irvine, the same happened for the program’s other 16-Under team. The Vince Gonzales-coached squad was participating in the Triple Crown Sports World Series and went winless in all four pool play games at Kit Carson Park.

The team fell to the [Minden] Nevada Hotshots 7-3 and 12-3 to the [Victorville] E1 Prospects-Robinson this past Tuesday. However, the Punishers were off to hot start against the [Vista] Frost Elite-Engels this past Wednesday afternoon, building a 5-0 lead heading into the fifth inning. That’s when the lack of consistency of finishing a game set in and the Frost Elite batted around, scoring six runs in the fifth on their way to an 8-5 victory.

“You never blame it on the umpire; the little strike zone seemed to adjust that last inning,” said Gonzales said. “Not only that, I believe our pitcher simply ran out of gas and just couldn’t finish the game. That’s something that’s not just her, but collectively as a team, we lack that killer instinct. We’ve lost several games recently; just that lack of experience of having that killer instinct and just learning how to finish a game. That’s something that we’ve struggled with early in the summer.”

Center fielder Destiny Avila (St. Anthony High) began the bottom of the first inning with a first-pitch single to left field and after two consecutive strikeouts, third baseman Vanessa Carranza (Downey High) tripled down the right field line. She would come home on the next pitch as pitcher Celeste Quintanilla (Legacy High) was safe on an error.

Two innings later, Katia Wilkem walked Avila and with one out, surrendered a base hit to catcher Briana Zarate (Legacy High). Wilkem would then walk Carranza and with two outs, first baseman Ava Barela’s (Warren High) single to left made it 4-0. The Punishers tacked on their final run in the fourth when right fielder Destiny Chavez (Port of Los Angeles High) singled to right, stole a pair of bases and came home on a Zarate single.

Meanwhile, Quintanilla seemed to be in control early on, throwing 35 pitches through the first four innings while striking out three, allowing three base hits and not allowing a runner to get to third. But in the fifth, the wheels came off and she gave up a single to Brooklyn Mills before walking three of the next four batters. Then with two outs and score 5-1, doubles by Chloe Filar and Peyton Justice put the Frost Elite in front 6-5 and signaled the end of the day for Quintanilla.

“They came out firing on all cylinders, and I expected them to do that because even in the previous games and last night’s game, we were tied in one and winning 3-0 in the other,” Gonzales said. “I know we can score. But it’s just a matter of playing consistent defense behind our pitcher and learning how to finish a game.”

Avila and Zarate each went two for three in the game while three other players accounted for the other three hits the team would collect. In fact, after Zarate’s second hit, Jessica Nelson retired the next six batters before Avila laced a two-out single to center.

“Obviously, you have to crawl before you can walk and I’m willing to take some bumps and bruises with her,” Gonzales said of Quintanilla. “And that’s when we’re going to learn how to battle through any type of adversity, is having to face it. I wanted to give her that opportunity.”

Following the game, the Punishers saw the [Ripon] Top 9 Sports race to a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the first by sending 11 to the plate and eased to a 9-4 victory, pushing the Punishers to a fifth place finish in their pool.

The Punishers tried to make it a game in the top of the second when shortstop Karissa Avila (Downey High) reached on an error and catcher Rose Guerrero (Cerritos High) singled to left. Two outs later, a walk to Chavez loaded the bases before another error allowed pitcher Isabella Lara (Buena Park High) to be safe at first and clear the bases. The fourth run came in the fourth when Guerrero smacked a solo home run over the left field fence. The Punishers were held to five hits in the game.

The Punishers would face the Hawthorne Firecrackers on July 15 at the Lakeside Complex in the first of the double elimination playoff games. The Firecrackers were outscored 34-7 in their four pool play games. The Punishers would need to win as few as three games to advance to the Bronze Championship game, which is slated for Saturday morning at the Poway Sportsplex.

The final tournament of the summer for the Punishers will be the C4 Nationals from Aug. 1-8 at the Big League Field of Dreams in Chino Hills. That tournament is a five-game guarantee and over two dozen college coaches are expected to be in attendance.

“We kind of know what our strengths are; we know we can hit,” Gonzales said. “We know we can put up runs, obviously. We just need to continue to build both our pitcher’s confidence and continue to play solid defense. Just like the old cliché is defense wins championships, obviously if we keep that clean, we can definitely compete with the best teams out there in the nation. That’s going to be our goal.”