REEDLEY – LIliana “Lilly” Rodriguez is building quite the softball legacy in her budding athletic career, and the young left-handed pitcher-infielder now is taking her game national.
Rodriguez, a Riverview Elementary School eighth-grader this fall who only started playing the game three years ago, back in February. She tried out and earned a spot on the Region 10 (representing California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii) 12-Under Division all-star team that will compete at the USA Softball All-American Games on Aug. 10-13 in Oklahoma City, Okla.
And it’s not just anywhere in Oklahoma City. The tournament will be played at Hall of Fame Stadium, where the Women’s College World Series annually is played. Lilly, who turned 13 in May, will play on the same field where her hero, college softball superstar Jordy Bahl, recently led the University of Oklahoma to its third consecutive national championship.
It’s been a quick ascent in the sport for Lilly, whose athletic career actually started at age 4 in volleyball. Her older sisters, Nikole and Vanessa Rodriguez, starred for Reedley High School and later played for Reedley College. But Lilly always had a penchant for throwing a ball, as family videos of her from as early as age 3 showed off a strong arm.
“I always wanted to pitch,” said Lilly, who began in organized softball at age 10. “I was scared at first, and then I got used to it when I started playing. (I love) the competitiveness, and playing against other girls.”
Rodriguez was notified by coaches about four weeks after she tried out that she made the team. While she admitted that she was shocked, the selection wasn’t totally unexpected.
“I thought I had a chance, because I was the only lefty and I threw faster than the other girls,” she said.
Lilly has been a dominant force during the spring-summer season for the Central Cal Khaos, a travel team based in Tulare which practices at Central Valley Christian School in Visalia. In 32 pitching appearances, 28 of them starts, she has overpowered opposing hitters with her 54-55 miles per hour pitches while posting a 22-1 record with 162 strikeouts and just 80 hits allowed in 108.2 innings worked. She collected a save in her only save situation, and has a season earned run average of 2.19.
Rodriguez is just as potent on offense, batting .441 in 63 games with a .598 slugging percentage and 1.151 on-base-plus-slugging. She has 56 hits, driving in 58 runs with 53 runs scored including 10 doubles, two triples and a pair of home runs.
Preparing for the tournament and keeping her arm sharp, Lilly builds her arm strength by throwing 75 pitches in a typical workout session. Her dad, Mike Rodriguez, often will join her throwing at a homemade pitching area at the side of the house.
Lilly and the Khaos team have remained busy this summer with a number of tournaments. The team will bypass play this weekend because of the excessive heat in the forecast, but are preparing for play in the regional World Series tourney in Modesto right before Lilly heads to Oklahoma.
This fall, Lilly plans to represent Riverview School and pitch for the Kings Canyon Unified eighth grade all-star team after starring last season as a seventh-grader. From there, it’s on to Reedley High where her older sisters blazed a successful athletic trail for her.
The USA Softball All-American Games is an exclusive honor for the young girls who qualify. Only about 360 girls will represent 20 regional teams from around the nation at the event.