A couple months after the fact, Gia Rodoni is confident she made the right decision.
The correct choice proved a little murkier at the time as the Baylor freshman was asked to pull her redshirt status more than halfway through the season. Not satisfied with his squad’s performance through the first 26 games, Bears coach Glenn Moore approached Rodoni about joining the rotation in mid-April.
“Being redshirted was hard as it was, but then after one of our losses against Cleveland State, (Moore) told me he needed me out there to be a leader and help our senior (Heather Stearns),” Rodoni said. “It wasn’t an easy decision because half of the season was over. He gave me a couple days to think it over. Eventually, the competitor in me won out. I wanted the team to succeed and I wanted to help them do that.”
The former Pacheco High standout was thrown right into the fire. After facing no competition beyond the practice field for almost a year, Rodoni joined the fold right at the start of Big 12 play. The right-hander fought her way through, posting a 6-1 record with a 3.35 ERA in 15 appearances. She struck out 31 in 37 2/3 innings pitched.
Rodoni took on a more prominent roll as the season wore on, culminating with earning a start against Long Beach State in a regional elimination game. The freshman extended the Bears’ season for at least one more game, allowing two unearned runs on three hits in five complete innings.
“The first time I really felt comfortable with my pitching and settled in was probably last week against Long Beach State,” Rodoni said. “When I decided to pull my redshirt we were in the tough part of our schedule, so I didn’t exactly get to ease into facing Division I competition. We had come off a tough loss to Oregon, that we didn’t play nearly as well as we thought we were going to.
“Coach came up to me and said, ‘you have the ball for this one.’ I knew the team had my back, so I just needed to go out and throw strikes and let them do the rest. I managed to stay pretty calm during the game. It was after the win where I felt like I had done really well, I was so pumped up I couldn’t sleep.”
Her fans back in Los Banos have avidly followed Rodoni’s wild ride.
“We made the trip down to the Fullerton tourney that they were playing in just to see her,” Pacheco softball coach Charlie Pikas said. “She was still redshirting then, but you could see she was champing at the bit to get back out there. That’s just the kind of kid that she is.
“When they finally decided to pull her redshirt, I got the chance to watch her on TV a couple times. Any time you get a chance to see a local kid playing on national TV at the next level, it’s special, but then to get to see a kid you coached, it’s an honor.”
Tough as her initial decision was, Rodoni said she wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
“One of the things that ultimately helped me make up my mind was that the seniors came to me and said they had my back no matter what I decided,” Rodoni said. “They said they thought we could go further as a team with me, but understood I’d already lost half my freshman season.
“The first game I appeared in was against UCF. When I got out in the circle, everyone started chanting my name. The whole experience has me excited for next season and makes me want to work that much harder.”
Rodoni isn’t the only local to make an instant impact in her freshman campaign.
Coward set UC Irvine’s school record in the discus with a toss of 170 feet, 11 inches. It beat Itos Aikhionbare’s record toss of 170-2 set on 2014 by nine inches. The Buhach Colony grad placed fourth in the discus at the Big West Tournament and finished 36th at her first NCAA West Preliminary Round in Kansas.
The Stanislaus State 800-meter star was denied a national title by a fraction of a second for the second straight season. Alvarado, who holds the Warriors’ school record for the event, chased down St. Augustine's Shaquille Dill in the final 50 meters, but couldn’t pass him. The Atwater alum missed out on the title by 18 hundredths of a second.
His performance earned him Division II All-American status for the second straight season.
The 2016 season has to go down as an opportunity lost for Jefferies and his Cal baseball teammates.
Both got off to sensational starts as Jefferies opened the year as the Bears’ ace, starting 6-0 as Cal moved into the top 10 in the nation’s rankings. The former Buhach Colony right-hander capped that fantastic start with a complete-game shutout of No. 3 Oregon State at the end of March. Jefferies would unfortunately only pitch two games the rest of the season due to injury and Cal’s season derailed without him. The junior finished 7-0 with a 1.08 ERA and 53 strikeouts to just eight walks in 50 innings.