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TRIPLE CROWN SPORTS ZOOM INTO JUNE: Artesia Punishers zoned out in showcase tournament, outplayed in all five losses

June 15, 2022

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

RIVERSIDE-What a difference a week can make in the world of travel softball. A week after going 2-2 and outscoring its opponents 20-15 in the Surf City Tourney’s Summer Kickoff at Fountain Valley Sports Park, the Artesia Punishers 18-Under squad managed by Leo Amaya did a complete 180 turnaround.

The Punishers ventured out to Reid Park in Riverside for the Triple Crown Sports Zoom into June showcase tournament and were outscored 57-15 in the five-game event.

Amaya was candid in saying the team’s mojo was up prior to the tournament, but quickly went south when some of the players informed him that his sister had passed away before the first game last Saturday morning against the [Torrance] Ohana Tigers-Sanchez/Younger. Amaya’s daughter, utility player Alicia Amaya (Bellflower High/Chaminade University), did not show up to the two games the team played last Saturday.

“Once somebody told the girls what had happened, [their mojo] kind of went down and they felt bad for my daughter, I believe,” said Leo Amaya. “It’s been like a rollercoaster, and we just went downhill and haven’t picked it up yet. I believe it might just be that because these girls do hit the ball very well and probably don’t make that many errors. This weekend has been hard on the girls because they feel my daughter’s pain.”

Through the first four games, the Punishers were also outhit 44-15 and committed a dozen errors and against the Tigers, the performance spoke for itself in a 17-1 loss. The Punishers were down 6-0 before they came up to bat and through the first two innings, it was 8-0. Makayla Sur, who recently graduated from Cerritos High, smacked a two-run home run for the final tallies of the inning. With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Kaila Yniguez [Bellflower High] reached on an error and moved to third on a double from her sister, Anaiyah Yniguez [Bellflower High] on a 0-2 count. But both would be stranded when Gahr High’s Rya Rivas lined out to Tigers pitcher Payge Armendariz.

The lone run would come in the next inning when Armendariz walked Riley Davison [Kennedy High], who was replaced by pinch runner Nathaly Ochoa [Santee High]. She would steal second and after a base hit from Anissa Vital [Mary Star of the Sea High], Ochoa came home on a fielder’s choice from Mikala Jacobsen [Cypress High].

After that, the Punishers would get two more hits in the next frame, one from Kaila Yniguez, who would later be thrown out at home, and one from Jacobsen. The Tigers busted out for 14 hits and 21 of the 33 batters that came to the plate reached base.

Following the game, the Punishers fell to the [Peoria] Firecrackers-AZ Medina/Marquez 11-4 in a contest that was close in the early innings. Trailing 2-0 after half an inning, the Punishers quickly responded in their half of first when Jacobsen singled with one out and Kaila Yniguez was walked and replaced by Rivas. Then Kaila Yniguez batted again, as is customary in showcase tournaments, and on a full count, singled in both runners to tie the game.

The Punishers took the lead in the next inning when Rivas was walked, and singled on the next pitch. Following a strikeout, Sydni Brooks [Cypress High] doubled to make it 4-2. After that, the team was held without a hit while the Firecrackers erupted for a pair of runs in the third inning and seven more in the fourth. The Firecrackers collected 10 hits and two Punishers pitchers combined to walk five as 18 of the 30 batters to come to the plate reached base.

It was more of the same this past Sunday morning again as the Punishers were manhandled by the [Sacramento] CA Breeze 15-5 as they committed five more errors.

“I just let them know they’re pitching really well; they actually are,” said Leo Amaya. “It’s just that our players are just making the errors in general. They’re doing their job striking [the opponents] out, or they do get a good hit; not a hard one. It’s just that our girls are making errors.”

It was 4-0 Breeze before the Punishers could come up to bat and when they did, Kalia Yniguez singled in Jacobsen with two outs. But the Breeze would tack on two more in the second and put the game out of reach with a seven-run third inning to make it 13-1. One bright spot for the Punishers came in the bottom of the fourth when Jacobsen doubled with one and moved to third on an error. Kaila Yniguez was hit by a pitch and then was walked to load the bases. On the next pitch, Anaiyah Yniguez launched a grand slam over the left center fence.

“Every coach expects their team to bounce back, and I really believe in my kids,” said Leo Amaya. “I believe they’re going to bounce back. We’re just in a bad slump right now, not just fielding-wise, but hitting-wise as well.”

The best chance to get a victory would have come after the game with the Breeze when the Punishers faced the [Corona] E1 Prospects. Trailing 2-0 after half an inning for the second time in the weekend games, the Punishers rallied for their only runs in the bottom of the first in a 5-4 setback. With one out, Jacobsen singled and was replaced by Ochoa. Alicia Amaya was then hit by a pitch and batted again where she hit a three-run home run. Kaila Yniguez followed that by reaching on an error and moving to third on a wild pitch before coming home on a two-out wild pitch. After that, the bats fell silent as the Punishers had six runners reach base, but only Anaiyah Yniguez collected a hit. The E1 Prospects scored three in the top of the fourth.to scratch out the victory.

Vital started for the second time in the first four games but was playing in her third game and worked into the fifth inning before she was replaced by Kamryn Lopez [Garces Memorial High]. Vital threw 82 pitches, allowed five hits but walked three. At one point, she had retired seven straight batters.

“At the end of the game, my pitcher was just drained,” said Leo Amaya. “She pitched really solid in the beginning. She just got a little burned out. I was trying to let her go the whole game. She knows when she’s done. That’s the only reason why I pulled her out.”

This past Monday, the Punishers dropped a 9-1 decision to the [Mira Loma] American Pastime Gold-Lindsay.

The Punishers are bypassing the Premier Girls Fastpitch Southern California Qualifier this weekend and will not be in action until next weekend when they will play in friendlies to close out the month. On July 2-3, the Punishers will take part in the two-day tournament at Big League Dreams in Chino Hills before competing in the Surf City Tourneys Summer Showcase July 8-10.

“Our goal is to get the girls committed,” said Leo Amaya. “You can go win PGF Nationals; you can go do that, [but] what if you don’t get the girls committed. Our job, basically, is to try to get somebody committed. I think overall, we’re doing a good job. It’s hard to sell somebody this [past] weekend because of all the errors. So, in upcoming showcases, it’s going to be our turn. It’s going to be our turn to shine.”