bleedCrimson.net: You hosted Hawai'i this past weekend and had a tough first game on Friday night against them but your team was able to come back and battle in both games on Saturday.
Kathy Rodolph: You know on Friday I was really disappointed in our defense because we gave up five unearned runs and if you take those away we still lose the game 4-1 but I have a standard that I expect us to play at but we definitely fell below that on Friday. I liked our response on Saturday, we just came back and started attacking pitch by pitch offensive and defensively and I think good things happened for us.
bc.net: What did you see from your offense against UH pitchers Stephanie Ricketts and Kaia Parnaby that were positives in the way that your hitters attacked their pitching?
KR: Steph Ricketts really pitched well here and was pretty consistent between 67 and 70 mph and I feel like as a senior she's throwing well. On Friday night we chased the rise ball out of the zone and we asked the kids to look curve and screw on Saturday but you don't have an opportunity when somebody's throwing 67-70, you have to get in there with a "yes, yes, no" approach, pick up the spin as soon as possible and if it's in the zone attack it.
bc.net: What positives were you able to take away from your pitching staff's performance on Saturday?
KR: On Saturday I felt like Alex did a good job of mixing pitches well and pitched a good game. I thought Karysta did as well in the second game. That was the second time they'd seen her and I feel like she had good late movement. The problem was with the Hawai'i team if you give up four runs and Kaia and Steph are stingy with runs and only going to give up one, you're going to come out on the short end.
bc.net: It's been an adjustment process for the team shuffling people around on defense with the injuries and illness you've been battling. You mentioned that you were a little bit disappointed with the defense in Friday's game, what adjustments on defense were you pleased with on Saturday?
KR: We had a talk that we have to play defense behind our pitchers with the pitching staff that we have and I feel like there was a lot better communication on Saturday and I felt like we were attacking on defense and we actually wanted the ball to come to us and just overall communication was a lot better and a lot more aggressive instead of wondering, is it mine, is it yours? No, it's anybody's. If the ball is hit in the air we've gotta be able to field it. I feel like we're starting to understand now that we're going to have new middle infielders and it is what it is and we can't talk about Kristi and Tehani being gone, somebody has to step up and fill that spot. I feel like we're kind of in a catch-22 because we can put our best defenders out but it might not be our best offensive weapons or we can put our strongest offensive weapons out and maybe not have the strongest defense. So we worked really really hard this week before going to LA Tech to make sure that we're marrying up the two.
bc.net: This weekend you head out to Louisiana Tech and you'll be coaching your 500th game at New Mexico State. What does the mean to you personally?
KR: I really like New Mexico State and I like representing New Mexico State. I think it's a wonderful institution, a wonderful, safe environment for kids to get their degrees at. I've had opportunities to go elsewhere and I really like it and I like the support we get from the administration. Even in a year when they know that we're struggling with injuries and mono and everything I definitely know that we have everybody in our corner and everybody's rooting for us. There's something to be said after 26 years of coaching, you definitely want to be somewhere that you know you're valued and wanted and I feel like New Mexico State is a good fit.
bc.net: What are some of the moments that stand out for you over the previous 499 games?
KR: The very first year that we were here I believe we were 14-44 and of those 44 losses, 30 of them were by three runs or less and 10 were by one in extra innings so I remember thinking, "My gosh, if anybody scores we just don't have the offense to score." So Coach Heifner and I made a pact that we were going to get on the road and really try to bring in some offense and within a couple years we were in the Top Ten in the nation three years running and one of those years won the batting title. Along with that we've won the community service award among all sports at New Mexico State for three years running and hopefully the fourth year. We came out 21st in the country academically with a 99 percent graduation rate. I'm really proud of the way we've been able to turn the ship around and get it going in the right direction but I"m also proud that we're doing it the right way. We're doing it in the classroom, we're doing it in the community, we're doing it on the field and when our kids leave here they walk out of here with a ton of confidence and ready to tackle the world.
bc.net: You talked about the decision to try to bring in offensive weapons and it seems like you and Coach Heifner were ahead of the curve on the offensive side and we've started to see that offensive strategy matriculate through the rest of Division I in the past three or four years.
KR: I've been fortunate enough to coach with Cat now for at least 15 years, El Paso Community College, Angelo State and New Mexico State and we've never not been in the Top Ten in the nation offensively and it really has nothing to do with me and it has everything to do with Cat. I don't pick our hitters. She picks her hitters, she loves hitting and I would match her up with anybody in the country. She studies it countless hours, watches video and she takes the strengths that the kids come in with and gets them confident with that and chips away at their weaknesses. She also gives them a very clear vision of what their piece of the offense is and gets them to buy into their piece and to bring their piece. You have some singles hitters, you have some power hitters, you have some touch and go kids and I feel like she's done a fantastic job of having a good mixture of all those elements in our offense.
bc.net: The trip out to Louisiana Tech is an important series for you. If you can get a couple of wins you're right back in the middle of the WAC race. You were in a similar situation a couple years ago. What did you learn from that experience that you can use with the team heading into this weekend?
KR: I feel like the situations are very similar on the outside but on the inside they couldn't be any more different. I think the last time that we were struggling along we got a little overwhelmed. We definitely had the ability but we just kind of hit the panic button and kind of had to rein it in. I feel like this year we've had so many injuries and sickness and mono and second rounds of mono and it's just been crazy because we absolutely felt fantastic heading into the season that we had every piece of the puzzle that we needed and it feels like in the middle of the season somebody took the puzzle pieces and swiped a couple of them and so now we're trying to figure out how those puzzle pieces fit together.
By no means have we conceded or given in and it's collaborative that we're going to figure out how these remaining pieces of the puzzle will best fit and to grow stronger and more determined to get better every single day. Instead of pressuring the kids to win ballgames, we're honestly working on just getting better. Getting back to who is New Mexico State. With new middle infielders, with kids that aren't as physically strong because of the mono they've had to go through, what can we do now? I feel like we're all working and getting better every day and I think that was indicative in day two against Hawai'i and I was very pleased with how we responded. Every day I ask the kids to just get one percent better. If we get better one percent every day then by the end of the month we'll be 30 percent better than we were. We try to give them a very specific program, this is what we need your one percent to be today. I think that the kids definitely don't feel pressure, you want to win every game but more importantly you want to win at life. I think that life and adversity, this couldn't prepare them more the game of life than anything they've ever experienced before because I think life comes at you pretty hard. The ball bounces right or left, somebody gets sick, you lose your job, you have situations beyond your control that come up, you've got to dust yourself off and get bak in the game of life and I feel like that's what we're doing.
bc.net: You touched on it a little bit but your team's response to adversity this season has been very good. You lost a game against Valparaiso but then came back to beat them a few days later. You got run-ruled against BYU in the first game of a doubleheader but then came back and were very competitive in the second game and against Hawai'i you bounced back on Saturday after getting run-ruled on Friday night.
KR: We believe absolutely that we're a better team than we've been showing and that if we can eliminate some errors and string together a couple timely hits and if we can swing the momentum our way and keep it, the outcome of the game will take care of itself. We're a talented team, we're just a very young team. Out of nine starters we're now starting five freshmen. I truly believe in them and I think we're going to be much stronger next year because of everything we've gone through but each of us is going to stay in the moment of what can we do right now. What we try to show the kids is if we can rewind the game and just take this play out or that play out, look at the difference of what would happen. How could you go back and take that play out? Nine times out of ten the team that is the most aggressive and assertive and captures the momentum is the one that's going to come out with the victory and somebody is going to attack somebody.
I equate it to the ultimate boxing match and sometimes if you get on the ropes, we've lost a couple people, we've had some sickness, if we don't get off the ropes we're going to get pummeled and so we have to get off the ropes and have the courage to get back in the middle and go after it and I feel like we're starting to take hold with that.
bc.net: You have a young team and they've showed a lot of mental toughness which is something that you don't always find with a younger, inexperienced team.
KR: We've been fortunate enough to bring in some talented kids who have already won at big levels. Karysta Donisthorpe has five state championships, Staci Rodriguez had her volleyball jersey retired at her high school, Ana Tovio-Asato has been hitting home runs since she was a freshman, Maleena Padilla is like dynamite in a bottle and has a small strike zone. You add in Val Swedberg and the experience she got last year and then you add in Tiare Jennings, Teresa Conrad and Brittany Clifton and we've asked some of our older kids to step up and start leading and let the freshmen get their feet under them but the older kids need to carry the brunt.
bc.net: Louisiana Tech is breaking a new pitching staff this year after losing last year's standout senior Meghan Krieg.
KR: I can tell you that I definitely welcome the trip to Louisiana Tech in knowing that I won't have to face Meghan Krieg. She was a flat stud. With that said, Sarah Dawson is a hell of a coach and highly competitive and a former terrific pitcher. There's no doubt in my mind that even if she's breaking in a new pitching staff she's going to have her kids very knowledgeable and very savvy about what pitches to throw and what to try to get us to chase and i think the whole determining factor of who is going to come out on top is who makes whose pitchers throw in the zone and who throws out of the zone.
bc.net: What is the challenge for your pitchers in going up against their lineup?
KR: I think that what we've learned through the first two series is that there's a couple kids you don't let beat you. You have to attack other kids. If somebody is hot on somebody's team you have to neutralize them an not let them beat you. That means you have to pitch well around them in front of them and behind them and if the games on the line, don't let it come down to the hot kid having an opportunity to beat you.