It was a bit of a gamble for Baylor coach Glenn Moore to start Gia Rodoni instead of ace Kelsee Selman in Friday night’s NCAA tournament opener.
After Rodoni threw a no-hitter in a 1-0 win over Kent State, Moore’s move looked brilliant.
Rodoni (16-2) threw the first no-hitter in Baylor NCAA tournament history and the 22nd in program history. It was Baylor’s first no-hitter since Heather Stearns pulled off the feat against Kansas in 2016.
“Gia’s a great pitcher and this is evidence right here,” Moore said. “She needs to frame this because no-hitters in our game are getting fewer each year because the hitters are so good. And they have some scary hitters in their lineup, too.”
Baylor’s win sets up a second-round winners bracket matchup at 1 p.m. Saturday against James Madison (51-6) at Getterman Stadium. A rested Selman (22-8) will pitch against James Madison ace Megan Good (37-1) who threw a six-hitter in a 3-2 win over Oregon State on Friday.
Rodoni walked four batters and struck out three, and had to be on her game to outduel Kent State’s Ronnie Ladines (19-15) who threw a five-hitter. Baylor improved to 44-12 overall while Kent State is 32-27.
“I found out earlier in the week I was starting,” Rodoni said. “So throughout the week I was preparing mentally to get out and get the first win. Everything for the most part was working well. I had a few misses in the last inning but for the most part my curve, screw and changeup were the ones I stuck with.”
Rodoni retired the Golden Flashes’ first 15 hitters before Vanessa Vodan drew a walk to open the sixth.
The sophomore right-hander walked Hunter Brancifort to open the seventh and then walked Bailey Brownfield and Ladines to load the bases with two outs.
Rodoni could finally breathe a sigh of relief when leftfielder Kyla Walker caught Brooke Dodson’s fly ball near the fence in foul territory for the final out.
“Gia was flawless,” Moore said. “When she missed, she barely missed. She was on her game, she was locked in the entire time, and that’s what it took to win that game. I couldn’t be more proud of her to start it off this way.”
Walker scored the game’s only run in the fifth inning after she tripled with two outs to the right-field power alley. Centerfielder Maria Cegledy picked up Walker’s hit and threw it to second baseman Vanessa Scoarste, but her throw sailed into the dugout to allow Walker to score from third.
“She left an inside pitch a little up, thank goodness,” Walker said. “I saw they were still running for it when I was on second and I thought I’d go. I was celebrating (at third base) and then I saw the ball roll on past me into the dugout, so I went on in.”
Baylor had a shot to score in the second inning. Maddison Kettler reached on a fielder’s choice, moved to second on a passed ball and tried to score on Taylor Ellis’ infield single. But shortstop Holly Speers threw out Kettler at home to end the inning.
Lindsey Cargill reached third base in the first inning and Jessie Scroggins reached third in the fourth but Ladines came through with clutch pitches to end the threats.
Moore wasn’t surprised Walker came through with the game winning run.
“Usually you say you want a big, strong hitter in the box when the game’s on the line,” Moore said. “Kyla’s probably my pick because she’s a tough out, she adjusts as well as anybody and she’s quick, she puts pressure on people. And then when they read her stat line, they’re a little bit scared of her. She’s pretty special, she can play the game.”