Gia Rodoni was the hottest topic in college softball after spinning back to back no-hitters against Kent State and James Madison to clinch last year’s regional championship at Getterman Stadium.
Coming into the NCAA tournament as Baylor’s No. 2 pitcher behind senior Kelsee Selman, Rodoni couldn’t have delivered a more dramatic springboard to become the team’s ace this season.
As far as auditions go, it would be like the Beatles closing with “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” just to make sure they passed the test.
“You don’t ever see that,” said Baylor pitching coach Britni Sneed Newman. “It’s extremely unusual. For her to do it not just once but to do it twice, and to do it here at home just means that much more. She did what we needed her to do in postseason, and that was to step it up.”
The Lady Bears are banking on Rodoni to come through big again in this weekend’s College Station regional beginning with Friday’s game against McNeese State at 3:30 p.m. at Davis Diamond.
Though No. 2 pitcher Regan Green will likely log some innings, Rodoni will have to carry the bulk of the load to give the Lady Bears a shot to make the Super Regional. She’s preparing herself to pitch three or four games if Baylor needs it.
“I was talking to Coach Newman about just the different mindset and mentality and having to carry a heavier load than I did last year,” Rodoni said. “For sure it’s more stressful, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m go into it expecting that I’ll be throwing a lot. I’ll be ready to go in at any moment.”
The Lady Bears are headed down the Brazos for the first round.
Looking back on throwing consecutive no-hitters seems a bit surreal to the junior right-hander now. The first came in the Lady Bears’ 1-0 regional opening win over Kent State as she walked four and struck out three. She showed even better command in the second no-hitter as she walked just one batter and struck out two in another 1-0 nail-biter to beat James Madison for the regional championship.
James Madison came into the regional leading the nation with a .357 team batting average, but the Dukes didn’t come close to scoring against Rodoni as she outdueled Megan Good, who had built a 38-1 record before losing twice to Baylor.
Rodoni became the first pitcher to throw multiple no-hitters in the NCAA tournament since North Carolina’s Danielle Spaulding in 2010.
“It’s crazy to think of especially facing those two teams which were good, competitive teams, and thinking that was a year ago,” Rodoni said. “Going back to a regional this year, it’s crazy how time flies and we’re back in the same place we were last year.”
Rodoni’s success didn’t end there as she won the decisive third game in relief against Arizona in the Super Regional to propel the Lady Bears to the Women’s College World Series. She finished last year with an 18-4 record and a 1.72 ERA.
This year has been more of a roller coaster for Rodoni as she has usually matched up against the opposing team’s ace. She’s gone 22-11 with two saves and a 2.11 ERA, and her 251 strikeouts in 205 2/3 innings lead the Big 12 and rank 14th nationally.
But the No. 18 Lady Bears wouldn’t have tied Oklahoma State for second in the Big 12 without her and they won’t have a shot to win make the Super Regional unless she pitches at her peak. Baylor coach Glenn Moore is glad he has such a highly competitive pitcher in the circle to throw the biggest games.
“She has a great demeanor as a pitcher,” Moore said. “She has a lot of heart, she’s a bulldog on the mound. Britni (Sneed Newman) calls a great game, she’s been in that circle, she knows what it’s like. They work well together, and it’s just a great combination that we have here at Baylor, and we’ve benefited from for many years now. “
Being the ace of a nationally ranked college softball team’s pitching staff takes a whole different mindset than being the No. 2 pitcher. Rodoni knew she would get the call to pitch in the first game of every Big 12 series and she had to set the right tone for the weekend.
“Being the ace on a squad is definitely a different role than being the No. 2 pitcher,” Sneed Newman said. “She’s understanding now what that really is like. The pitching coach and someone who has been there can explain it to her and say ‘Hey this is going to happen, the pressure is going to be here. You’re the one who has to take control and sometimes put the team on your back.’ She’s embraced that role, she’s stepped it up, she’s done everything we’ve needed her to do to be our No. 1.”
With 59 more innings than last year already under her belt, Rodoni has had to make sure she’s done all the right things physically to withstand the heavy workload. She focused on cardiovascular training during the offseason and has worked with Baylor trainer Matt Piechoski between pitching performances to make sure she’s prepared for the next game.
“I’d say I just did more cardio to keep me in shape to go longer in games,” Rodoni said. “I dropped the weights a little bit so I can focus more on my endurance. I feel great. Our trainer Matt has been doing a great job with keeping me recovered and injury free.”
Since Rodoni usually pitches in multiple weekend games, she has focused on establishing greater command of all her pitches and giving batters a different sequence to look at each time. But in many games, sheer determination has made the difference.
“I’m being better at locating my pitches and attempting to add more spin and movement on it knowing I’ll face a team two or three times so they can stay off-balance,” Rodoni said. “I just have to battle and give my all in the game we’re in and just expect for the next game to have to do the same thing to put it all out there. I’m definitely not holding anything back. I just let it all loose in the moment.”
Since she pitches so often, Rodoni has learned the importance of having a short-term memory. She knows she can’t get too excited after a win or sink too low after a loss because she’ll often get the call to pitch again. Win or lose, Rodoni looks back at every performance to see how she can improve.
“Gia has that inner fire that stays lit all the time,” Sneed Newman said. “In some of those games where she hasn’t pitched as well, she remembers those so she can be better in for her next performance. As a coach that’s all you can ask is for them to learn from those mistakes and those games that didn’t go as well and to be better from it.”
Rodoni has experienced mixed results against McNeese State this year. After throwing a complete game four-hitter in Baylor’s 7-1 win on Feb. 16 in Hattiesburg, Miss., Rodoni was roughed up in a 7-3 loss on April 11 at Getterman Stadium as she allowed seven hits and five earned runs in four innings.
With starting catcher Carlee Wallace out this weekend with a concussion, Rodoni will work with converted shortstop Taylor Ellis at catcher. But Rodoni has proven her resilience regardless of the circumstances.
“We know we can’t take McNeese for granted obviously,” Rodoni said. “We played them before so we know they can beat us because they did it before. It just helps us not to overlook them to the next team we’ll have to face.”
Baylor matched a program record by having four first-team National Fastpitch Coaches Association all-Central Region choices, including pitcher Gia Rodoni, catcher Carlee Wallace and outfielders Kyla Walker and Jessie Scroggins. Utility player Goose McGlaun was a second-team pick.