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11TH PGF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP: Fatigued Artesia Punishers 18 Gold squad fails to get timely hits, exits early in top tournament

THE ARTESIA PUNISHERS 18 Gold travel softball team at the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship.

All photos by Armando Vargas, Contributing photographer.

July 28, 2021

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


IRVINE-After a one-year hiatus because of the global pandemic, all systems were a go for the 11th edition of the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship. After not appearing in the first three PGF National Championships, the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team was back at it, hoping to at least repeat the same performance of the 2018 team when that team finished in third place.

But the Punishers lost leads of two and four runs respectively to the [Redmond] WA Voodoo and fell 11-8 this past Tuesday morning at Harvard Park. The Punishers, who went 1-3 in pool play action over the weekend and were playing their second bracket game in less than 19 hours, went two and out for the third time in their eight trips to the PGF National Championship as either a Gold team or an 18-Under team and now have an 11-16 in bracket play. This was also the highest scoring game for a Punishers 18 Gold team in bracket play.

“It was a good, entertaining, hard-fought game,” said Punishers head coach Joe Fletcher. “We got down, rallied back to tie, took the lead. But as often the case with PGF, it starts to become a war of attrition, and we started to wear down towards the last couple of innings. Credit to them; they made the plays that they needed to make to take the lead and now we’re fighting back up the hill again. I was proud of the way they did compete.”


JAZMINE MACIAS  (La Mirada High) safely gets into second base with a double in the bottom of the fifth inning against the [Wixom] Michigan Finesse in this past Monday’s Platinum Division playoff game in the PGF National Championship. Macias would eventually advance to third but not score as the Punishers lost 3-2. Macias went three for three and scored a sixth inning run.


The Voodoo grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, thanks to a monster two-run home run by California Lutheran University commit Alex Nyberg over the left field fence. But the Punishers rallied in the bottom of the second inning in great fashion. Voodoo starting pitcher Lindsay Ferguson walked third baseman Meilana Lopez (Whittier Christian High) and left fielder Kassandra Martinez (San Dimas High/Mt. San Antonio College) before pitcher Anissa Vital (Mary Star of the Sea High) laced a one-out double to the left field corner to bring home Lopez. Then facing a 0-2 count, catcher Mya Diaz (Anaheim High/Hope University) singled in Martinez. Following a strikeout, designated player Bailey Jacobsen (Cypress High/Chaminade University) reached on the first of three errors, allowing courtesy runners Jessica Lopez (Los Osos High) and Melody Gutierrez (La Mirada High) to put the Punishers in front at 4-2.

That lead was short-lived as the Voodoo made its second two-out rally in the first three innings. A single from Christie Tadvick, who will be going to Bellevue College, set the stage for Nyberg, who smashed her second two-run home run to tie the contest.

But the Punishers responded with a bigger rally in their half of the frame, beginning with a walk to first baseman Valerie Jorgensen (Pacifica High/Phoenix College). Meilana Lopez was then safe on an error and Martinez doubled, plating Jorgensen. A sacrifice bunt from right fielder Jazmine Macias (La Mirada High) allowed Meilana Lopez to make it 6-4 and with two outs, a base hit from Vital brought home Martinez. The final run the Punishers would get came when Jessica Lopez scored on a passed ball.

After that, the Punishers would have opportunities to score in three of the final four frames but couldn’t get a runner to third base. On top of that, the team would record two more hits the rest of the way while Leslie Hines walked two and two more runners reached on a fielder’s choice.

“The beginning and the middle of the game, we were getting those hits and we were taking advantage of those plays,” Fletcher said. “You have to sustain that when it turns into a scoring fest.”

After the Voodoo got two runs in the fifth, the second coming on a bases loaded walk issued to Pacific Lutheran commit Brooke Tilson, the big blow would come in the next inning when the Voodoo sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five times on just two hits. But Jorgensen would walk four batters, one of them intentionally to Nyberg, hit another and had one more reach on the lone error the Punishers would have.

Tadvick, Nyberg and Allison Murai, the No. 3-5 batters in the lineup, combined to go six for 10 and drive in six runs while two other Voodoo players collected a hit each. In fact, Fletcher decided to intentionally walk Nyberg in the fifth and sixth innings, both times with two outs, only to see that plan backfire as Murai singled to load the bases in the fifth and was hit by a pitch to load the bases in the next inning. She would score the last run of the game.

“That’s always a challenge when you decide to walk, which is respect to her,” Fletcher said of Nyberg. “But that’s always a challenge when you face the batter behind her. That batter takes it as an insult, and you have to face her instead of the batter before her. They were able to take advantage of that and make us pay for putting [Nyberg] on.”


SECOND BASEMAN MIKALA JACOBSEN {Cypress High) forces [Wixom] Michigan Finesse pitcher Gianna Kerschbaum out at second base in the top of the fourth inning in this past Monday’s PPGF National Championship Platinum Division playoff game. The Punishers would lose 3-2 after a late rally came up short.


Meanwhile, Vital had two of her teams’ half a dozen hits while second baseman Mikala Jacobsen (Cypress High), Diaz, Jorgensen and Martinez accounted for the other hits. The Punishers would also get three extra base hits in the two bracket games and strand half a dozen runners against the Voodoo.

The Punishers began bracket play the previous morning against the [Wixom] Michigan Finesse and while it wasn’t as high scoring as the game against the Voodoo, the Punishers still had issues with stranding runners and not getting the timely hits, leaving nine runners on base, including three at third base, and came up short in a 3-2 decision.

“Leaving runners on base will always come back to kill you,” Fletcher said. “The timely hitting; we just couldn’t put together that one hit that would crack things open for us. Obviously when you leave that many runners on base, and leave [an opponent] in the game, it becomes harder for you to get out of that hole.”

The Finesse took a 1-0 lead in the opening inning when Sydney Bogden, who is committed to Wayne State University, singled and came home on a two-out double by Ella Curry. The Punishers tied the game in the second when Gianna Kerschbaum walked Jorgensen with one out. She would advance to second when Martinez reached on a fielder’s choice but was tagged out seconds later as she tried to return to second base. Consecutive singles from Macias and Vital on a combined three pitches allowed Martinez to score before a strikeout ended the rally.

“That’s a totally different ballgame if we can score those two runs,” Fletcher said. “With these types of games, you have to minimize mistakes. Unfortunately, Val missed understood what the [umpire] was saying in terms of her being safe versus out. That’s an unfortunate play, but that’s typical of a PGF game. It’s going to be one play where you say, ‘if that had happened, if we had done some other things later in the game, did we hit for the right person’.”

The score remained tied until the fifth when, again with two outs, Vital walked Bogden before yielding a home run to Jaiden Lara, bound for the University of Detroit Mercy. Vital, who pitched 11 of the 14 innings in the two games, would be replaced in the next inning by Jorgensen. Both pitchers combined to allow 13 hits, walk 11 and strikeout four in the two games.

“She did a great job,” Fletcher said of Vital. “In PGF, there’s all the pressure; all the eyes on you. So, once you get in there and you get through those initial first inning nerves, you settle in. And this is a very good pitcher. So, I’m not surprised she was able to weather a heavy load. It’s been a while since we’ve had to play seven innings. For her to pitch as strong as she did and give us an opportunity to stay in the game, which is what you want your pitcher to do, I’m proud of her.”

Another common theme of the two games that the Punishers would soon like to forget about was the ineffectiveness from the top of their lineup. Against the Finesse, the top six hitters went a combined one for 20 with one run scored. Against the Voodoo with a slightly different lineup, the top six went a combined three for 19 with five runs scored and two runs driven in.

“If your top six batters can only give you one hit, you can’t win games,” Fletcher said. “Jazmine, who is in the seventh spot, played tremendously at the plate. She did a great job. It’s difficult to win when the top six are only getting one hit unless the bottom three are going nine for nine.”

The PGF National Championship tournament always begins with pool play games that are merely practice games and have no bearing on bracket play. In the past, teams have played three pool play games but this year, everyone was scheduled to have two pool games on Saturday and two more on Sunday. The first pool play game was to have been against the [Hacienda Heights] Cal Rebels-Vidal/Silva last Saturday afternoon. But an out of state team in the same pool had to drop out for Covid reasons. Instead, the Punishers opened against the [El Dorado Hills] Foothill Gold-Stinson, 45 minutes after their first pool game was to have started and rallied for a 3-2 victory.

The Foothill Gold grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning when Lanie Blomquist, who has committed to California State University, Chico, singled, stole second and came home on a base hit from Hailey Roloff, who has committed to Menlo College. In the next inning, Tegan Oas, a Concordia University, Chicago commit, was hit by a Jorgensen pitch and later scored when Emilla Miehe was walked with the bases loaded.

The Punishers scored all their runs in the bottom of the third when Bailey Jacobsen singled and stole second. Jessica Lopez was then walked and the two runners would steal their respective bases before Meilana Lopez singled to plate Jacobsen. An error would allow Jessica Lopez to tie the game and a base hit from Jorgenson brought in Meilana Lopez for the game winner.

Third baseman Leiloni Pina (Cerritos High/Monroe College) went two for two and Jorgensen worked into the third inning, allowing four hits. Vital relieved Jorgenson to pitch the final one and two-thirds inning, yielding one hit and striking out one.
Following a brief break, the Punishers grabbed an early 2-0 lead against the Cal Rebels before giving it up and eventually falling 5-3. Bailey Jacobsen was walked to lead off the contest, then stole second and scored on a base hit from Meilana Lopez. Two pitches later, a single from Jorgensen made it a 2-0 affair. After that, the Punishers were limited to one more hit and five more baserunners.

Three of those came in the fifth when Martinez was hit by a pitch with one out. Now with two outs, Jacobsen was walked and after Gutierrez, who was pinch running for pitcher Angeleen Silva (Garces High) stole third, a single from pinch hitter Mikala Jacobsen made it a 5-3 contest.

The Rebels would score four times in the third and one more in the fourth.

The next day, the Punishers faced the [Surprise, AZ] Rogue and came up short in a 3-2 contest. The Rogue took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third when Trinity Kennemer singled in Bella Cummings with two outs. But in the fourth, the Punishers scored twice as Mikala Jacobsen and Martinez had consecutive doubles and Silva had a run-scoring groundout. The winning runs came in the fifth as Alex Hess singled in Mazzy Skinner and Cummings, who had both singled to load the bases after Lauren Ervin began the rally with a single of her own but was later thrown out at home.

The final pool play game was a 3-0 loss to the [Moorpark] Southern California Choppers-Ashley in which Bailey Jacobsen and Meilana Lopez were the only ones to record a hit. Bailey Jacobsen would go five for nine in pool play action while Meilana Lopez went four for 10. The remainder of the team combined for nine hits

“Everyone is dealing with Covid and the weirdness of it and getting back into the swing of things of it,” Fletcher said of the unusual summer. “We had some roster changes and that also was a factor in trying to get a solid team together; the continuity, the expectations of the team. A lot of it had to do with Covid, a lot of it had to do with player movement. It was just a weird, odd season.”

The summer isn’t completely done for most of the Punishers Gold team as approximately 13 players will be heading to Hawai’i to play more games and take a tour of Chaminade University. Other players from some of the younger Punisher teams will also be going to Hawai’i. Fletcher said at least 50 girls from the Punishers program will be making the trip. This is something Punishers president Bob Medina started a few years ago; sending his team to the islands once the PGF National Championship has concluded. Medina recently was hired to be on the coaching staff at Chaminade. The players, coaches and parents leave on Aug. 9 and return on Aug. 16.