JSU softball: Rodriguez's arm, Bobbitt's glove close out Gamecocks' sixth straight win

Mark Edwards, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·4 min read

Apr. 3—JACKSONVILLE — Nobody out, no base empty, no margin for error.

No sweat for Jacksonville State pitcher Nicole Rodriguez.

Well, maybe a little sweat. It was a toasty Sunday afternoon at University Field, but that's what the resin bag is for.

Either way, Rodriguez mowed down all six batters she faced to close out JSU's 1-0 win over Murray State. The win gave JSU (11-16, 10-7 OVC) a sweep of the three-game league series and increased its win streak to six straight.

JSU led 1-0 going into the top of the sixth before Murray State singled twice off starter Reagan Watkins and then coaxed a walk on a 3-2 pitch that appeared borderline. With no outs, JSU coach Jana McGinnis brought in Rodriguez, a senior who has developed into a tough pitcher when the circumstances squeeze that much harder.

"That's what makes me the proudest as a coach," McGinnis said. "She comes in with bases loaded and gets the next three out. It's good as a coach to see a player who has matured, who has elevated, and has learned to handle those situations."

Rodriguez got Jordan Childress to foul out to third base. Then she struck out Taylor Jackson on a six-pitch at-bat, followed by another strikeout on a tense eight-pitch at-bat by Lexi Jones.

"I just knew our team had to get out of it," said Rodriguez, who has pitched 14 straight shutout innings. "The game was on the line. But, I trust our hitting and our defense. Our defense always has my back. I knew all I had to do was throw quality pitches."

Both Watkins and Rodriguez got plenty of help from center fielder Keeli Bobbitt, who tracked down four flyouts. In the third inning with two outs and a runner on first, Bobbitt ran down a flyball at the fence with her back nearly to the pitcher.

In the final inning with two outs and nobody on, Murray State's Jensen Striegel hit a dying liner into left-center field. It looked like it might hit the turf and roll to the fence, allowing Striegel to get to third base, at least.

Instead, Bobbitt dove to make the catch, saving the final out of the game and igniting the postgame celebration.

"I always trust her to get the ball," Rodriguez said. "She told me before the game — well, she tells me pretty much every time I pitch — just throw strikes, that our defense is going to have my back, she's going to be diving for balls, and she's going to make the catches for me."

Bobbitt said she knew almost immediately she was going to have to dive to make the catch.

"I just want to lay it all out for my team, especially my pitchers, because they're out there working really hard," she said. "It's a great team win."

Bobbitt, a senior, played right field last year, and this season, she's gone back and forth between right and center. She has stuck in center for the past month or so.

"She's not afraid to dive," McGinnis said. "If you call yourself a centerfielder you better be willing to lay out and rob. I'm a true believer, and that's why we ended up moving Keeli to center field — to do just what she did to end the game."

What to know

—The relief work of Rodriguez and the catch by Bobbitt might've overshadowed the work of Watkins (5-4), who pitched five shutout innings. In her last three starts, she has worked 17 innings and allowed only one earned run.

—Karsen Mosley went 1-for-3 and scored the lone run in the second inning. She has 14 hits in her last 27 at-bats. She scored on a hit by Chaney Phillips, who tried to execute a squeeze bunt to bring home Mosley but then scored her when she lofted a liner over third base.

—Jada Terry and Alexus Jimmerson each doubled Saturday, while Caroline Lively had a single.

Who said

—McGinnis on pitching coach Sallie Beth Burch and volunteer assistant Matty Moss for their work with the pitchers: " They're the ones who've worked with our pitchers. They not only work with their skill but with their mentality. They challenge them every day. They work with putting confidence in them — everything I'm not good at. I'm proud of them. Our pitching staff has worked, and I'm glad they're getting to reap the benefits from it."

—McGinnis on Phillips, a shortstop known for her defense, coming through at the plate: "I could see it in her face that she was going to battle. We tried to squeeze with her, and it was foul. So I told her, 'You dig in and you fight and just get this run in.' The look in her eye, she just battled and fisted one over third base, and it worked. That's just determination at the plate and having confidence in herself."

Next up

—JSU will host Middle Tennessee State on Tuesday at 3 p.m. The Gamecocks lost 11-2 at Middle Tennessee on March 24.

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.