will be conducting weekly interviews with Aggie women's softball head coach Kathy Rodolph throughout the 2008 season as the Aggies take aim at the WAC title. In this week's interview Coach Rodolph recaps last week's Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson, talks about the doubleheader against Georgetown and looks ahead at the UNLV Tournament. Can you talk about the Hillenbrand overall and then about each of the games individually?
Kathy Rodolph: I thought that it was kind of a tough weekend for us. We had way too many errors and definitely did not play up to our ability. Part of that I attribute to Steph Herrera, key senior, leader, having a severe ankle sprain in the second game and going out. That kinda created some uncertainty in our infield but way too many errors playing against quality teams. In the game against Illinois-Chicago, a team that you faced earlier in the season and beat, you got 14 hits but were only able to score 3 runs and you end up losing the game 4-3. Can you talk about that?
KR: I absolutely felt like we came out and were able to get hits so we kind of took for granted that we'd be able to score runs. I feel like we kind of wasted some key opportunities and then the pressure really builds up going into the bottom of the seventh and once again an error led to us losing. I felt like it was a very valuable learning lesson because just because you're able to handle somebody once that doesn't mean that they're not going to come right back and battle you the next time. We kind of took for granted that we were going to be able to score instead of capitalizing on the opportunities we had. In the Virginia Tech game you ended up faced All-American Angela Tincher for 3 innings, what did your players learn from facing a good quality pitcher like that?
KR: Well, she is absolutely the most dominant pitcher we've faced all year. I felt like when she went out of the game with a pulled muscle, and they were thinking it might be a possible appendicitis, once again we didn't realize the opportunity and seize the moment when she had to leave the game. I felt like we were kind of intimidated when she was in there and didn't flip gears fast enough when unfortunately she had to come out of the game. You mentioned that Steph Herrera turned her ankle in that game? What's her status for this week's games?
KR: It's still pretty swollen so the chances of her playing tomorrow night against Georgetown are very limited. I think in order to get Steph back full this weekend, we're going to have to start very light and work our way into getting her back because it was probably Grade 2 at least, pretty swollen. She played through the pain and everything on the first day and I decided it was way too swollen to risk losing her for a long period of time. In her absence who has stepped into her position?
KR: We were splitting time between Dani Fagan and Kylie Randall and both of them have the ability to do the job. Dani is also splitting time behind the plate so that's quite a challenge to go from behind the plate to angles in the middle infield and I think that hurt us a little bit. I feel like Kylie is an outstanding player that's still adjusting to the speed of the college game and had a couple errors that I think if Steph had been there we might not have had but I'm going to look at it as a very positive for Kylie to get some game time she might not have gotten had Steph been there. In your third game against South Florida you were up 3-2, then USF tied it at 3-3 in the 7th, then you came right back and won it in the bottom of the 7th. Can you talk about that game?
KR: We absolutely got more determined after falling short in the Illinois-Chicago game and coughing up the game at the end of the game and we decided that we were going to do everything that we could do not to let that happen. Stacy Lien came up big, I think second pitch hit a bomb to the grandstand. So as a junior you hope that one of your juniors will step up and carry us and Stacy absolutely did in that situation. Against Iowa State, they got 6 runs in the 2nd and then you were able to hold them scoreless for the rest of the game. What positives can you take away from this game?
KR: The positive, we're going to see them again in a couple weekends, we realize that if we had not gotten so rattled to where we started to throw the ball away that that game could have very easily been a different outcome. We felt like Iowa State is a good ballclub but we should not have ever given up those six runs. You ended the tournament against Arizona, can you talk about that game and about some of the experience that you were hoping to gain at the beginning of the season from playing a team that you're trying to model your team after?
KR: Arizona is an outstanding program and I think they something like 300-31 at home [NOTE: The U of A softball team is 418-31 at home through 2006 and holds the national record for consecutive home victories at 70]. They're exceptionally dominating at home. We started off and Vanessa [Fitzgerald] was real nervous and ended up giving up a walk with bases loaded and I definitely would love to see us stay more within ourselves and stay a little bit more poised. They're outstanding hitters no doubt and they handle themselves well at the plate. They can hit all locations at the plate and hit it very effectively. It was a 4-0 ballgame for a long time and then I switched and brought in Sammie Dillard and that was pretty good and Calista Balko a key senior catcher for them took a changeup over the right center field and that became 6-0. But then we came back and scored. I was very happy that we have yet to be shut out all year. What it shows me is that we're willing to battle deep into games and not just get focused on whether we win or lose. We're continuing to grow and get stronger through our experiences. Overall the losses that you have suffered, the common theme seems to be that your pitchers are pitching well and not giving up many earned runs and that your defense isn't quite playing to the level that you want. How do you deal with that and keeping your pitcher's confidence up?
KR: I felt like all along when we set the schedule to play 13 teams in the Top 25, there was no doubt in our minds that unless we really bring a game, the outcome's not going to be what we want. But I also feel like if we want to continue to grow the program and be in the hunt for the WAC title at the end in May, the only way to do that is to go out and learn how to play poised under pressure. I feel like we're having some of those growing pains right now of adjusting to the speed of the game instead of trying to slow it down so that we could stay in control, we have to be able to speed up but not panic. So I feel like we are learning those lessons. And honestly to be right around the .500 mark with the teams that we're playing. I've looked over the schedule and still believe we can win 30 games. And a lot of those games that you did lose, you could just as easily won.
KR: Absolutely. With only two seniors on the field, I feel like we have set our program up for some high standards this year but what I'm hoping to gain out of this is in the future, once you know the level that you have to play at, you won't be so intimidated when you're playing those Top 25 teams. Tomorrow you face Georgetown (6-13) in a double header, they've actually been in the area since Friday playing in the UTEP tournament. Is there any advantage that you can gain having played a common opponent in UTEP?
KR: Georgetown looks like a team that sometimes gives up runs and then sometimes is very stingy with runs. I definitely think it will be a good challenge for us. A midweek game for both Georgetown and us coming off of two tough tournament weekends, I think it's going to really come down to the one who has the strongest will to refuse to give in. They have a pretty good pitcher in Jennifer Connell, who's 5-9 with a 3.86 ERA but isn't getting much run support. Can you talk about her and have you had a chance to see her at all?
KR: I haven't had a chance to see her since we were on the road. I'm sure Georgetown is collecting scouting reports on us just like we're collecting scouting reports on them. I think it all really boils down to who is going to capitalize on the opportunities the game brings it. Because the game is going to present itself with opportunities and the one that's going to jump on those opportunities first is going to be the one who comes out on top. This weekend you head to Las Vegas for the UNLV Invitational, can you talk about the tournament overall and then we'll talk about the individual teams that you'll be facing.
KR: The tournament itself is another tournament that's going to be great competition. It doesn't get any easier for us over the next two weeks. Hopefully we're going to start to minimize and handle our defensive pressure a little bit better over the next two weeks. That's what I'd really like to see happen before we start off conference in Hawai'i. Two more Top 25 teams in Oregon and Ohio State. UNLV at home, we've gone to the UNLV tournament twice since I've coached here at NMSU but we have yet to play UNLV so that will be another tough challenge for us. Southern Utah and us don't really know a whole lot about each other. We haven't played over the four years that I've been here so that'll be kind of new. Then facing Portland State again where we've already seen them in Palm Springs and hopefully that'll be a little better matchup than it was before in Palm Springs. Your first game is against Southern Utah (4-9), they seem to be a team that is struggling a little offensively, they're hitting .224, obviously you're hoping to win that game but what are your goals beyond that?
KR: Every game that we go into, I feel like games are kind of dominated by who the most aggressively under control. So what I'm trying to do is get us to be aggressive regardless of whether we're feeling the most confident we've ever felt and that's kind of a hard challenge to do. But I feel like if you can stay aggressive, then you're more likely to capitalize on opportunity and Southern Utah is well know for being a strong hitting team so although it's early and the offense might not be clicking yet, they'll definitely be a team that can swing it and it'll be a challenge for my pitchers to keep them out. You face Portland State (7-13) on Friday in the second game and they're coming off a win over #25 Washington. Facing them again for a second time around just like you did with Illinois-Chicago, what are the keys in that game?
KR: After just reviewing video of Portland State this morning, we had a key error in center field that allowed an in the park home run that I can't remember the last time that happened to us. It really sparked momentum for them so you take away that one key error and it most likely would have been a different game. You face host UNLV (13-8-1) on Saturday in the first game of your day. You mentioned that you haven't faced them before. They look to be a good solid team with some good quality wins, what can you tell us about UNLV?
KR: Very athletic, very well coached, good mixture of speed and power like we do. I feel like at home they're going to be tough to beat and we're just going to have to really keep the errors to a minimum because it could really cost us in the UNLV game. Then in the second game you face another Top 25 team in Ohio State. What can you tell us about them?
KR: They're playing really hot. They're really talented. The last time we faced them here in the Troy Cox here a couple years ago they whupped up on us pretty good so I'm hoping to be able to keep them from getting big rallies against us. They have three really good pitchers in Kim Reeder, Lindsay Bodeker and Megan Miller. What can you tell us about them, were they around the last time you faced them?
KR: Kim Reeder, we actually recruited too for a while. Played on a top travel ball team out of Northern California. She probably is their most standout pitcher. It'll be interesting to see who they pitch against us. All three seem to move the ball and vary it well. The pitching coach is Erica Beach that pitched for Arizona State, one of the top pitchers so I'm sure she's going to have them pretty well oiled in the circle. Sunday you face Oregon (13-9), they have a pretty good offense scoring over 6 runs per game and they also have three good pitchers in Alicia Cook, Brittany Rumfelt and Melissa Rice. What can you tell us about them?
KR: We played Oregon last year when we were in Vegas and I think lost to them 6-3. They are definitely a team that is similar to us. They're quality slappers, great short game, good power. The big key is going to be challenging our defense to defend the short game.