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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA QUALIFIER-Pair of Artesia Punisher teams go two and out as offenses sputter in qualifying tournament


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


IRVINE-The goal for travel softball teams each summer is to qualify for the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships at the end of July or beginning of August through several qualifying tournaments. The Artesia Punishers had two opportunities to do that last weekend at the Southern California Qualifier.

But the 14-Under and 18-Under teams, both coached by Vincent Gonzales, failed to get a win as the older team was outscored 23-3 while the younger players allowed a dozen runs and scored four times, all in one game.

Last Friday afternoon at Harvard Park, the 18-Under team was manhandled by the (Belmont) Northern California Blast 13-3 as a five-run bottom of the first inning set the tone for the remainder of the game. The Punishers, though, would get a pair of runs back in the top of the second inning when Ari Woodbring walked first baseman Destiny Avila (St. Anthony High/Medaille University) and surrendered a double to right fielder Alexis Duenas (Artesia High/Missouri Valley State College). Avila would then come home on an error while Duenas made it 5-2 on a wild pitch.

However, the Punishers would be stymied the remainder of the contest as Woodbring retired the next eight she faced before Duenas doubled to the right field gap in the fourth and scored on a single from catcher Briana Zarate (Legacy High/Westcliff University). Those three players were the only ones to reach base in the game as the Punishers recorded three hits, allowed 15 and made four errors.

It was worse last Saturday afternoon as the Punishers were blanked by the (Whittier) O.C. Batbusters-Alvarez 10-0 as the team got three more hits but made five errors. The team had five baserunners and the first of two scoring chances came in the top of the second when centerfielder Lucy Montelongo (Millikan High) singled, went to second on a passed ball and moved to third on a one-out groundout from shortstop Annie Perez (Buena Park High).

In the next inning, pitcher Michelle Blas (Downey High) and Karissa Avila (Downey High) singled and Hannah Rojas walked Duenas to load the bases with none out. But a double play ended the inning and the threat.

Again, the Punishers fell behind 5-0 before the first out was recorded after the first inning. The first two batters reached on an error, then a hit batter loaded the bases before Vaiokinereta Paniani smashed a grand slam to left field. That was followed by a solo home run from Melissa Hanson.

“Man, what happened in that game was we were simply outhit,” said Gonzales. “Obviously, after losing the game the way they did [on Friday] …we didn’t play with a lot of confidence today. It was just a lack of focus and understanding the magnitude of the game.”

Next up for the Punishers will be a trip to the C4 Nationals in Kingman, AZ, July 7-10 before participating in the Triple Crown Sports World Series in Reno, July 18-23. The Punishers will be one of over 5018-Under teams competing in the event.

The 14-Under team was blanked by the (San Diego) Power Surge-Walling 4-0 last Friday afternoon at Great Park as it was 1-0 until the top of the fifth inning when the Power Surge closed out the game with three runs. The Punishers struck out a dozen times and had five hits.

“Obviously, you want to win these games at the PGF level, but we just proved this weekend for a new team; first time out, that we’re definitely going to be able to compete throughout the summertime,” said Gonzales. “Now the next step is to start winning these closer games.”

Gonzales added that team has been together a few months, but he and assistant coach Chris Forseen say it’s amazing to see the growth and the chemistry come together in a short time.




Last Saturday’s contest against the (Encinitas) Ohana Tigers-Indian, which won five games in the loser’s bracket to earn a berth in the Premier Division of the PGF National Championships, proved to be tight for the first two innings. A 1-0 lead turned into a 5-1 deficit after three innings before the Punishers closed the gap to 5-4 with three runs in the top of the fourth. But the Tigers iced the game with three runs in the bottom of the fifth and eliminated the Punishers 8-4.

The game could have been a disaster early as the Tigers loaded the bases with none out in the bottom of the first on an error and two singles. But consecutive groundouts to second baseman Alice Quiroa (Mayfair High) and shortstop Alyssa Hughes (Mayfair High) forced the runners out at home before pitcher Danielle Baca (Cerritos High) struck out Brooklyn Bartolome.

“We do practice that just about every week,” said Gonzales. “As soon as they knew the situation, we really didn’t have to call out our defense. They made their adjustments on their own and everybody knew what to do with the ball. That was very pleasant to see.”

That momentum carried over the top of the second when third baseman Katelen Pedroza (Legacy High) reached on a fielder’s choice in the second and scored the game’s first run when left fielder Mariah Garcia (Mayfair High) was safe on a three-base error. After the Tigers scored their five runs in the fourth, the Punishers made it a game when Pedroza tripled home a run with one out in the fourth. Two batters later, center fielder Gianna Quezada (North Torrance High) reached on an error, allowing Pedroza to score. Then a triple from Sarah Aguilar (Paramount High) plated Quezada.

“The girls were excited; they knew we could compete at this level,” said Gonzales. “We rode that momentum defensively after getting out of that bases loaded jam. We were a little overly aggressive on the bases and drew a bad throw that ended up in us getting a run.

“Obviously in this game of softball, we know, in a game of this magnitude, one run isn’t going to be enough,” he continued. “We knew we had to continue to build on that. Unfortunately, we made a couple of mistakes that snowballed in the third inning.”

Baca worked into the fifth inning, tossing 78 pitches, striking out a pair and walking no one before she was replaced by Ariyah LeBlanc (Gahr High).

“She showed a lot of grit and determination because she still was able to get ahead of batters,” said Gonzales. “That’s kind of been our goal this last month; every outing for scrimmages and practice games and tournaments, is no walks. Make them earn it.”

The team is also going to the C4 Nationals in Kingman, AZ July 7-10 before participating in the Surf City Tourneys showcase events, and then when the fall season arrives, the plan is to move up to the 16-Under level.