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PREMIER GIRLS FASTPITCH SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA QUALIFIER – Area athletes, coaches vie for a berth in end of summer’s top tournament

June 22, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

IRVINE-Many of the area’s high school softball players’ travel teams have already clinched a spot in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championship, but they wanted more. Others were looking to stamp their name to the lengthy list of teams that will flock to several Orange County facilities at the end of July and early August in what will either be their last softball games before college, or a little bit of momentum for the 2024 high school season.

Those area athletes and a couple of coaches took part in the PGF Southern California Qualifier, and one team in particular came up short in playing for either an automatic spot in the Premier Division or Platinum Division of the National Championships. In the 18-Under age division, the Southern California Athletics-Rivera/Blanck had the bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, trailing the [Moorpark] Southern California Choppers-Ashley by a run. But a base-running mistake ended the game and the Athletics fell 3-2. The Athletics, co-coached by Tim Rivera and current Artesia High head coach Ed Blanck, both of whom were once coaches in the Artesia Punishers organization, won three straight games before falling to the [San Marcos] Southern California Breakers-Beddow/Wright 5-1 this past Sunday morning followed by the setback to the Choppers.

“It was unfortunate we had to get to [that situation],” said Rivera. “We shouldn’t have been there; all their runs were unearned. Otherwise, we would have won 2-0 and been still playing.

“I think as we go on, you’re facing better pitching,” he later added. “In the first game today, we didn’t do too well. We should have won that game. This team right here, it was a very good team we lost to. We play them all the time and we battle with them. I don’t feel as bad losing to them as I do losing that first game.”

The Athletics took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Maya Torres (Artesia High) singled with two outs and scored from second when catcher Viki Barron (Manhattanville College) reached on an error. The score remained that way until the top of the fifth when the Choppers scored twice.

The eventual game-winner was scored one inning later before the Athletics began to make things interesting. On the first pitch of the bottom of the sixth, center fielder Olivia Madkins (Columbia University) homered over the left field fence.

In the final inning with one out, Barron was walked on four pitches and went to second on a single from left fielder Jenessa Hernandez (Wilcox High). Then with two outs and after fouling off three straight pitches, Madkins singled to load the bases. However, a blunder on the base paths ended the game.

Had the Athletics pulled out the victory, they would have faced the [Foothill Ranch] Southern California Athletics-Dave Lastrapes with the winner of that game earning a spot in the Premier Division and loser getting a berth in the Platinum Division of the National Championships. Heading into the qualifier, the Athletics were pretty much locked in the National Championships.

“We would have much rather earned it,” said Rivera. “I think we earned it anyway, but to do it on the field and come out with a plaque would have been nice for the girls and their hard work.”

Last Friday, the Athletics doubled up the [Corona] E1 Prospects-Marez 6-3 as a four-run bottom of the first inning proved to be the difference. Center fielder Alea Medina (Artesia High) went three for three and scored three times while shortstop Vanessa Soto (Artesia High) also went three for three, drove in a pair of runs and scored once. Designated player Alexis Rosales (Pioneer High) went two for three and had an RBI.

Last Saturday morning, the Athletics got past the [La Mirada] Explosion-Sanchez, coached by Gahr High head coach Rey Sanchez. The Athletics scored a pair of runs in the top of the third to take a one-run lead before the Explosion tied the game in the fourth. With one out in the top of the seventh and second baseman Analeigh Herrera (Warren High) at third, Medina singled to center to make it 3-2 and that was followed by a base hit from Soto on a full count, accounting for the final tally of the game. 

Later in the day, the Athletics had no problems with the [Downey] Ohana Tigers-Colenzo in a 10-2 conquest. Already leading 1-0, the Athletics added four runs in the top of the second as Madkins tripled in a pair of runs with one out and Lianna Lara (Sierra Canyon High) hit a two-run home run to left field with two outs. She would finish the game going three for three and drove in four runs. After the Tigers scored in the third and fourth innings, the Athletics put the game away with a five-spot in the sixth. Medina went three for four and scored twice while Torres worked the first four innings, scattering three his and striking out two.

“Alea is a stud,” said Rivera. “We moved her to leadoff now and she’s been amazing. Maya did a great job pitching yesterday. She’s versatile; can play short, third and pitcher, and she’s been hitting the ball very well. The same for Vanessa, our number four hitter. She catches for us. plays shortstop for us, plays third base for us. All three of them are amazing ballplayers.”

This is the first year Blanck and Rivera have been coaching together for the So Cal Athletics. Blanck, the 2023 HMG-Community News Coach of the Year, had been with the Punishers for roughly two decades before moving to the Athletics, where he has been for five years. Rivera, in his seventh year with the Athletics, spent 10 years with the Punishers.

“It was time for a change,” said Rivera. “I left first, then he retired from over there and I brought him over here with us. We do so well together.”

The Athletics will next be in action at the Surf City Tourneys Summer Showcase, to be held July 7-9. In other action featuring some of the area softball players, Gahr graduates Sophia Magcale (University of Redlands), Hailey Sanchez (California State University, Northridge) and La Mirada High’s Amber Valdez were on the Explosion, which went two and out. After the loss to the Athletics, the Explosion fell to the [Tracy] All American Sports Academy-Clark 7-4 later in the day. Hailey Sanchez went a combined three for seven with two runs scored and a RBI, while Magcale had a pair of hits in four at-bats.

Cerritos graduate Catherine Quibrantar, who went a combined two for eight with a run and a RBI, and John Glenn High’s Sienna Contreras, who went hitless in her lone at-bat in the last game, are on the Tigers, which won their first two games before losing the next two.

In the 16-Under division, Norwalk High’s Kendall Nakano, the 2023 HMG-Community News Player of the Year, calls the [Norco] Wildcats-Laufou/Hunter her travel team, which went 3-2 last weekend. Nakano went a combined five for 14 with a double, drove in three runs and scored three times. Since the beginning of the summer travel season, Nakano is batting .490. Also on the team is Kylie Manibusan of Cerritos, who did not record a hit in 15 at-bats, but scored once and was walked once.

Note for all area travel players: If your team has qualified for the PGF National Championship, please let me know what team you play for via twitter or email me at [email protected]. I will be doing a preview of the PGF National Championship for the July 21 issue.