bleedCrimson.net: You've got a big week this week with six games against ranked opponents, two against Arizona State tomorrow and four against Nebraska this weekend.
Kathy Rodolph: It's going to be a good challenge for us. The schedule was devised to where we would continue to face stronger competition as each week came along and trying to hopefully prepare us for conference play. A big test against Arizona tomorrow night and then four games against Nebraska. Both teams are having great years.
bc.net: To recap the last couple of weekends of play, you went down to El Paso for the UTEP tournament and had a good come from behind win over UTEP, beat Bradley in an extra innings game, split with Texas State and then run-ruled North Dakota.
KR: I felt like at that tournament we were still giving up too many runs in the circle and starting off in the hole, giving up a couple runs right off the bat in the first inning. We were doing a great job offensively of whatever the challenge was we were going to meet it but we continued to get better and when we went to Arizona State the following weekend we continued to get a little bit better.
bc.net: Out at Arizona State you defeated Creighton, lost to a very good East Carolina team, then lost a tough game to Arizona State but like you did after the Oklahoma loss, you bounced back with a pair of wins over teams you were supposed to beat.
KR: I was a little disappointed in the loss to East Carolina, they're an outstanding team. They have some strong pitching but once again I felt like we started off in a hole and played catchup the whole game. Then Arizona State, they have an outstanding team but I don't feel like we came out ready to play. We were intimidated. We weren't ourselves. We weren't aggressive and that's something that we've really got to challenge ourselves to do a better job of. But I did like the response because playing Northern Colorado right after that and we had been fortunate enough to beat Northern Colorado twice at home in our home tournament, that would have very easily been a game we could have dropped just because of getting shaky with the Arizona State game. I was proud of our response. Then Northern Iowa is a very talented team and I thought that was a great win for us.
bc.net: You've had a couple games against ranked opponents where you've suffered a very tough loss but both times your team has been able to bounce back very quickly and pick up a win against a team that you're supposed to win against which has been something that your team has struggled a little bit with in the past.
KR: I think our seniors are doing a better job of understanding that maybe we didn't play our best but we've got to live in the present, the here and now. It's kind of adopting a philosophy of "So what? Next pitch. You gotta look forward, you can't look back." I think a little bit of maturity is paying off this year.
bc.net: In the win against UTEP at home you win 1-0 which was very unusual because most of the time those games are pretty high scoring.
KR: That was really kind of an interesting game. I felt like it was a great game both on our part and UTEP's. I was extremely happy for Vanessa Valles because Vanessa is a talented team with an awful lot of talent so she hasn't been able to get into the lineup every day but what I like most and respect most about her is every opportunity I give her she makes the most out of it. To see her come out after not playing in a couple games and get the winning home run, that was huge for her and for us. I really challenged Alex Newman after a not so good start against Arizona State that she was better than that and that if somebody was going to beat us then they need to beat her best stuff and not get beat by yourself. I thought that was a great response, going seven innings with just four hits and no earned runs, that was a great response by her.
bc.net: That home run by Vanessa was her first career home run if I'm not mistaken.
KR: It was. The thing about V, she is a local kid that has worked her tail off. She's not real big, she's only about 5'3" but being 5'3" makes it kind of difficult, she has a small strike zone. She's just continued to work every day in practice to really be a tough out whenever she's called upon. It's nice to see that work ethic pay off.
bc.net: You've got a couple of players that don't get the kind of recognition or publicity that some of your bigger name players get, Tiffany Autry is one of them. How impressive is it for them to be able to come out for one at bat, or one defensive series or a pinch run situation and be able to produce for you?
KR: What I'm really proud of and what's the biggest change in our team is our team chemistry and it's legitimate. We're putting the team, i.e. the company, first. Tiff Autry has battled shoulder injuries since she's gotten here and has gone through more than almost any kid that I've had the pleasure of coaching. What I like most about Tiff is she hasn't let it defeat her. Not in the classroom, not on the field or not in life. Every opportunity she gets she comes out and she is absolutely is a tough out.
I think another one who is kind of battling shoulder injuries is Shaleese Javillo. She is absolutely critical to pinch running for us. She's gonna have to have shoulder surgery at the end of the season to hopefully get that shoulder back healthy for her senior year. But as much as she's disappointed in her shoulder not being able to stay stable, she definitely takes her job seriously, comes in, steals that base, gets herself in scoring position when we need it at critical times in the game.
I feel like we've got some kids on our team that if they were on another team they would definitely get in the lineup. It's just difficult because we're at a point where we've got so much talent this year.
bc.net: Alex Newman has really emerged as the ace of the staff which maybe isn't such a big surprise considering she was your most consistent pitcher last season even though she came out of the bullpen most of the season.
KR: Alex is continuing to get better and her experience last year definitely gave me an indication that she was going to be a strong mainstay for me in the circle. Alex is really developing herself more as a complete pitcher being able to vary the speed, being able to throw multiple pitches to complement her drop. Definitely has worked hard at being able to break her pitches at multiple locations. I feel like she continues to get better every week and I need her to. It's a blessing as and curse to have a drop ball pitcher because drop ball pitchers are not notorious for a lot of strikeouts which means you're going to put a lot of balls in play and you're going to have to play real strong defense behind her. This year we've had more errors early than is routine for us so we're really trying to clean that up.
bc.net: You talked about the dropball pitcher is not being known for having a lot of strikeouts but she seems to be averaging five or six strikeouts per game.
KR: She's continued to get more as we progress in the season and part of that is just getting better as a pitcher and not a thrower. As she continues to get more crafty and be able to throw more pitches, different pitches in addition to the drop, I think that strikeout ratio could go up. I also feel like it's a good thing because if you miss with the drop it usually stays in the yard. If you miss with the riseball then it's usually gone.
bc.net: One of the things that has been problematic for your pitching staff over the past few years that really doesn't seem to be as big a problem this year is your team isn't issuing a lot of walks.
KR: That was definitely something that absolutely killed us last year. You can afford a miss here or there but you can't do it with runners on. I have really really challenged the kids to be able to hit their spots and be able to throw to all four zones and basically not beat ourselves. We have cut our walks down by at least half.
bc.net: Back to this week, you've got a real big challenge heading into conference play. You've got Arizona for two tomorrow. I'm sure you fully expected them to be ranked when you faced them this year. But then you've got a four game series with Nebraska, a team that you beat twice last year that has been a bit of a surprise and is also ranked.
KR: Arizona I believe is ranked No. 6 right now. There's an awful lot of difference between a Top 25 team and a Top 10 team. Arizona with eight national championships, there's definitely tradition there. There's going to have to be a lot of things that go our way to come out on top but I think the kids are absolutely welcoming the challenge. It should be a tremendous crowd. We've got four or five high schools bringing teams tomorrow. I won't be surprised if it's a sellout. It's going to be an exciting night and good for our kids and good experience before the conference tournament at Fresno where they're going to be able to pack the stadium as well. I think it'll be a tough challenge tomorrow.
Nebraska is coming off of defeating No. 1 Florida this past weekend and Florida was undefeated and then Nebraska beat them 1-0 and their pitcher was throwing a no-hitter against Florida going into the sixth inning so they're going to be very very talented.
bc.net: Last year things didn't go very well down in Tucson but the year before you played them down to the wire in the first game and also played them well in the second game but just had a little bit of a hangover from the way that first game ended.
KR: I believe and I feel like the kids agree with me that if we have the courage to come out and be ourselves and play to our ability, it's going to be a real good matchup. If we come out intimidated or nervous or are not aggressive it's going to be a real long night.
bc.net: I'm sure you'll face Kenzie Fowler tomorrow in one of the two games. What is the approach that your hitters have to take against her?
KR: Well, when you're facing a pitcher like Kenzie Fowler who threw a no-hitter against us over there throwing curveballs as 72 mph, you better not get in the box looking at many strikes. You better get in the box ready to attack the first strikes that you see. If you go deep in the count against an outstanding pitcher like Kenzie, it's going to be a long night.
bc.net: What kind of style does Nebraska play and are they similar to when you faced them last year to open the season?
KR: I believe that on the season they're 20-2 this year and they're definitely hitting the ball a lot harder. They've got a set of twins, one of them is a catcher and definitely a Hoku type power hitter in the middle of the lineup that hopefully we're going to make somebody other than her beat us. That means that my kids are going to have to be able to hit their spots and to be able to keep runners off in front of her.
bc.net: This is the final weekend of non-conference play for you before you head into WAC play next weekend against San Jose State. What are some things that you've been pleased with and what are some things that you're hoping to see improve before you get into conference play next weekend?
KR: The challenge with playing high caliber teams, what I'm hoping is it's going to prepare us for the battle against Fresno and Hawai'i. Those are going to be some key series, not to say that the others in the conference are not because I feel like the WAC is a very underrated conference. There are some teams that are struggling a little bit record-wise but if you look at the caliber of the teams they've played, it doesn't really do justice based on their record. I think the WAC is going to be a tremendous, tough schedule all the way through to the conference tournament. HOpefully playing the Arizonas and playing the Nebraskas is going to help us not be shaky when we go into conference and just be us and play. The style of play we have is to be aggressive, to press the tempo, to gain momentum, to do a lot of those things. Hopefully our preseason has prepared us to do that in conference?