Rodriguez inspires Panthers many ways

By Pat Turner

Maddie Rodriguez’s final softball season at O’Connor is becoming more special each day.

The Panthers’ right fielder, one of two seniors on the squad, helped O’Connor overcome inexperience and a sluggish start in District 28-6A to claim the third post-season spot. In the first round of the playoffs, Rodriguez’s offensive and defensive contributions were crucial in O’Connor’s 8-2, 9-5 sweep of San Antonio East Central.

Now, Rodriguez and the Panthers (20-7) are looking for more special times when they take on Johnson in the area round this week.

“We’re playing together,” Rodriguez said. “I think our key is not over thinking anything. When you’re relaxed, you play better. This is really special to me.”

Making diving catches in the outfield like she did in game two against East Central and coming up with clutch hits has been Rodriguez’s trademark during her four years at O’Connor. However, overcoming adversity is also on that list.

Rodriguez has had her share, especially going into this season. There was a time when it appeared she might miss the year after undergoing knee surgery in the fall. The determined outfielder refused to give. She worked on getting to full strength and was cleared to play in January.

“I was really wanting to play, because this will probably be my last year of softball,” said Rodriguez, who plans to study Biology at UTSA before entering medical school. “I kept pushing through, because I knew I had to be there for my team.”

Once Rodriguez leaped over that hurdle, the next challenge was getting into the playoffs. That looked like a longshot when the Panthers were sporting a 4-6 record with eight to play. That’s when a major turnaround occurred as O’Connor won all their remaining games.

“We worked hard to figure out what we needed to do,” Rodriguez said. “When the first part of district ended we meshed together and had a heart-to-heart. We realized what we needed to focus on to get to the playoffs. We played each game one at a time. We took it pitch by pitch.”

Rodriguez was a big reason, batting .486 with 13 home runs while keeping the outfield secure.

“Maddie means so much to this team,” O’Connor coach Caitlin Bollier said. “She is a great player. She has overcome so much adversity and has been big for us.”

The Panthers are still going strong.

Timely hits continue to come from a number of players, including Olivia Ball, Gaby Katz, Kathleen Barton and Jordan Alejandro. Of course, Rodriguez is making her presence felt.

Rodriguez didn’t get a hit in the opener, but the Panthers’ lead-off hitter walked three times and scored twice.

In the clinching contest, Rodriguez had a bunt single that loaded the bases during a four-run rally in the third. On this day, her biggest contributions came in right field.

After center fielder Dani Pedraza hauled in a line drive, Rodriguez made a shoestring catch to rob East Central batter Bella Saldivar of a potential double.

That turned out to be valuable as East Central followed with a double and RBI single before the Panthers ended the inning with a groundout.

In the sixth with a runner on second, Rodriguez made a snag at the wall to halt another East Central scoring opportunity.

Things are looking bright for O’Connor. Being one of the few players with post-season experience, Rodriguez knows the key to keeping it going.

“We’re looking to keep O’Connor’s tradition going,” Rodriguez said. “The younger players are doing well. They’re staying focused and relaxed. We’re peaking at the right time. We have to keep playing like we know how to play and take it one pitch at a time.”

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