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By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
FONTANA-The Artesia Punishers travel softball program was well-represented in the 2017 West Coast American Fastpitch Association Nationals with five teams vying for a championship. When the six-day affair had ended, one team won a championship while two other teams came up short in their championship bid.
The 18-Under team, managed by Armando Canizales, barely broke a sweat through the double elimination portion, winning all four games it played and outscoring its opponents 38-2. The Punishers blanked the (Riverside) Southern California Dynasty-Houchin 5-0 last Saturday before edging the (Costa Mesa) Southern California Liberty 1-0 this past Sunday. That was followed by a 10-1 win over the (La Puente) Primetime early in the afternoon, then a 22-1 romp over the Liberty later in the afternoon for the championship. All the games were played at Jack Bulik Field.
“I’m still dumbfounded as far as it goes,” Canizales said. “It’s a national event; it’s just starting out. It wasn’t around back in the old days. I’m just dumbfounded to even think about how these girls have landed a national event under their belt. I’m just tickled to death.
“It happened so fast, to be honest with you,” he added. “I’ve been with the organization for quite some time and when you start off, you always impress Mr. [Artesia Punishers president Bob] Medina by telling him, ‘hey, I’m going to try to win a national title’. But you don’t know when it’s going to come to you.”
In the championship game, the Punishers had a 1-0 lead until the third inning when the floodgates opened. A seven-run top of the third inning put the game away and the team proceeded to add three more in the fourth and the final 11 runs in the fifth. The Punishers belted 18 hits with center fielder Amanda Canizales (Whittier High/California State University, Dominguez Hills) leading the way with five, followed by three each from third baseman Samantha Noriega (Carson High) and shortstop Jocelyn Rodriguez (Paramount High). Amanda Canizales also had four runs batted in while Noriega and catcher Nikki Aldecoa (Bishop High) each drive in three runs. Pitcher DeAndria Lockett (Hawthorne Math and Science Academy/La Sierra University) went the distance allowing two hits and striking out seven. The Punishers were also helped with five errors by Liberty’s defense.
Armando Canizales said the big difference between the two games with the Liberty was the fact that the Liberty had to play more games in the loser’s bracket while the Punishers were more rested, having played just once between the two games. The three games that the Liberty had to play in the loser’s bracket prior to the championship game were decided by four runs.
“Liberty is a great team,” Armando Canizales said. “They are well-coached by the coaches over there. It’s just incredible how that team survived that long [in the loser’s bracket]. They ran out of fuel by the time we got to them.”
He added that the strategy was to wear them out with the small ball because the Liberty had played more games that day.
The 18-Under Punishers went through pool play action undefeated in five games played, one of six teams out of the 53 between all five age divisions to go unblemished. The team did play a sixth pool play game, which did not count towards their standings and lost to the (Rosemead) Ladyhawks 4-1 last Friday afternoon.
The Lady Hawks scored all their runs in the bottom of the first while the lone tally for the Punishers came in the third when right fielder Nicoal Magdaleno (La Habra High/Cerritos College) tripled to the left field corner and scored on a base hit from second baseman Alora Murray (Gahr High).
“I could say it was a wake-up call,” Armando Canizales said of the loss. “We were short on girls being that they are older now and they got to work and they have other priorities.
“The girls did a great job this weekend, considering their schedule and how much they had to work in the last month,” he later added. “They came out and handled their five games very well; they held their composure.”
The Artesia Punishers 16-Under team was one of two teams that fought their way through the loser’s bracket and advanced to the championship game. After winning three straight games, the Punishers succumbed to the (Garden Grove) American Pastime-Yslas 7-6 this past Sunday evening.
After going 4-1 in pool play action, the Punishers knocked off the Riverside Reign 11-6 last Saturday afternoon before dropping a 6-4 decision to the (Beaumont) Sudden Impact.
After giving up a pair of runs in the top of the first inning, the Punishers got on the board in their half of the frame when left fielder Michelle Dominguez (Long Beach Wilson High) singled and eventually came home on a bases loaded sacrifice fly from pitcher Kenia Lira (Warren High).
The Sudden Impact would score three unanswered runs before the Punishers rallied late in the game. In the bottom of the fourth, Lira was walked and replaced by courtesy runner Clarissa Lockett (Hawthorne Math and Science Academy). Two outs later, she came home on a base hit from center fielder Jaylyn Hernandez (Bellflower High).
Dominguez would lead off the next inning with a double and came home on third baseman Amanda Castro’s (Long Beach Wilson High) two-bagger. A sacrifice fly from Lira would plate Castro for the final tally. The Punishers, who finished in second place in pool play, had defeated the Sudden Impact 2-1 the previous day.
“The only difference today was the girls studied the ball hard and they were very disciplined,” said Punishers manager Vince Gonzales. “They hit the ball where they needed to. It’s just that they weren’t falling in the gaps like they did in the previous games.”
The team would then immediately face the (Montclair) Quickturn and backed by a combined two-hitter from Lockett and Sierra DuNah (San Marino High), breezed to an 11-0 victory. In pool play action, the Punishers had no-hit the Quickturn 7-0.
In the elimination game, every starter had either a hit or scored a run. Dominguez, Lira, Lockett and first baseman Yasmine Castellanos all had a pair of hits. Those four also combined to drive in nine runs while right fielder Jennifer Aguilar (Santa Fe High) drove in two as well.
This past Sunday morning, the Punishers would defeat the (Rosemead) Ladyhawks 6-3 and the Sudden Impact 8-1 before falling in the championship game.
“They showed a lot of heart and determination,” Gonzales said. “We’re slowly growing in the right direction.”
The Artesia Punishers 10-Under team followed the same path as that of the 16-Under squad before dropping a 14-2 decision to the (Laguna Niguel) Orange County Batbusters in the title game this past Sunday afternoon. After going 2-3 in pool play action and finishing in fifth place out of eight teams, the Punishers blasted the (Gilbert, AZ) Vendetta 16-6 last Friday before losing to the O.C. Batbusters 11-3 last Saturday afternoon. The loss would then be followed by an 11-4 win over the (Santa Maria) PSA Eagles, an 8-7 win over the (Rancho Cucamonga) Southern California Patriettes this past Sunday morning and a 7-5 triumph over the Pico Fastpitch immediately afterwards.
The Artesia Punishers 12-under team won their first two playoff games, knocking off the (Rancho Cucamonga) Firecrackers Eastside 5-1 and the (Riverside) USSSA Pride 8-5 last Friday. After that, things went the opposite direction for the team, which went 3-2 in pool play action and finished in third place. The Punishers were blanked by the (Conejo Valley) Southern California Victory 6-0, then were eliminated by the (Yorba Linda) Orange County Warriors 7-4.
“We had outstanding pitching from Ashley Sawai and Chloe Schuff through the entire tournament, especially in the two wins in bracket play,” said manager Hil Hernandez. “As coaches, we are very proud of what this team has accomplished and the girls have worked so hard. They have truly developed their skills, knowledge of the game and love for the sport.”
Against the Firecrackers, Sawai scored a run and drove in another within the first two innings as the Punishers built a 3-0 lead after two innings. Against the Pride, the Punishers scored three runs in the top of the first inning as Madison Barraza’s triple plated Sydney Martinez. Two straight walks after the triple and a single from Lilyana Uriarte brought home the other two runs.
After the Pride answered back with a pair of runs in its half of the inning, the Punishers blew the game wide open with four tallies in the second. Barraza would go four for four in the game.
The Punishers would have to wait 80 minutes after their game with the Warriors was to begin due to one of the fields being flooded and games having to be switched around. In all, the Punishers started that game 11 hours and 45 minutes after the time they had to arrive at Jack Bulik Field.
The Warriors put the Punishers in a deep hole with a five-run top of the first inning and extended the lead to 7-0 after three and a half innings. Sawai drove in two runs in the bottom of the third with a double to the left field gap and two more in the fifth on another double from Sawai, this time down the left field line. Shuff and center fielder Aryanna Signoretti would also have a pair of hits.
“Overall, the team played well for being together for such a short time,” Hernandez said. “They came together in the fall of 2016 during Punishers’ tryouts and the team developed for the [next] seven to eight months, then many changes were made to the roster just weeks before nationals. They came together when it counted. It’s a great squad and with a little more seasoning and experience already established, [it] will make them a strong contender during the 2017-2018 season.”
The only team to go two and out in the playoffs was the Artesia Punishers 14-Under squad. After winning once in five pool play games, the team fell to the (Diamond Bar) Powernet Southern California Hawks 14-1 last Friday afternoon, then 8-2 to the (Corona) Adrenaline Athletics last Saturday.
“It was a great experience,” said Punishers head coach Rudy Delgado. “It was our first time being in the AFA as a team. It was our first year as a 14-U group and this team is coming around. We didn’t really gel; we had a roller-coaster of a season. We really wished we could have all these girls since the beginning and I think we would have done a lot better in this tournament.”
The Punishers were down 3-0 after the second inning, thanks to a two-run home run from Victoria Aguilar. The Athletics added three more runs in the top of the third inning before the Punishers finally got on the board. With two outs in the bottom of the fourth, center fielder Sabrina Veloz (Walker Junior High) doubled and came home on a single from first baseman Mia Nordgren (Millikan High).
In the next inning, right fielder Taylor Parriott (Los Alamitos High), who went two for two, reached on an infield single and scored on an error.
“These girls will sometimes put their heads down, but I noticed during this tournament, their energy never stopped,” Delgado said. “I really thought in the last inning when we got back to the top of our order and we scored, I thought we were going to make a run.”
Delgado, who has been with the organization for seven years and coached with Dan Weekes with the 12-Under team last year, said he had 10 players at the beginning of season, lost a few here and there, then got a new group of girls but lost more again. He has had to rebuild his squad twice since the season began and as a result, the Punishers had more losses than wins.