Of all that Rachel Rodriguez accomplished for Central High during her decorated four-year softball career, one thing is appreciated most by coach Scott Gorton.
The Boise State-bound right-hander -- a prominent contributor to the first two Central Section titles in program history -- helped elevate the Grizzlies from a team that hoped to be competitive to one that now expects it.
"She carried us from the time she showed up in high school until now. You could tell as a freshman she was going to be a leader," Gorton said. "She was never OK with losing, so she never let anyone else be OK with losing, either. She asserted her will on just about everybody in a good way."
Rodriguez concluded her career by going 18-7 with a 0.83 ERA in the circle while hitting .357 with 18 RBIs, earning Tri-River Athletic Conference MVP honors for the league co-champion and Division I quarterfinalist Grizzlies. She is The Bee's 2014 Softball Player of the Year.
A three-time All-Bee honoree and the Outstanding Pitcher in 2013, Rodriguez has the most wins (52) and strikeouts (528) and third-most hits (126) in program history, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
Gorton calls Rodriguez the hardest working and most driven player he's had in seven seasons at Central.
She credits that to her parents, Eleanor and Andy.
"From a really young age, they taught me it's good to be committed to something," Rodriguez said. "And once you are, you give it your all."
And Rodriguez certainly gave the Grizzlies her all.
Central had just begun to scratch the surface of its potential before Rodriguez arrived on campus, one of five freshmen to make the varsity team in 2011. To that point, the Grizzlies had reached one section final (2007) and won one league title (2009) in school history.
But with Rodriguez playing alongside classmates Jilee Schanda, Taylor Rowley, Savannah Rush and Maryssa Kamimoto for four years and Kaylynn Burt for three, Central went 96-33-1 with two TRAC titles and the two D-I crowns.
"This group of girls is a special group," Rodriguez said. "We all didn't realize what we were doing, but we set history for Central and put it on the map. We were so lucky to all be together on the same place."
Rodriguez hit .352 and went 8-2 with a 0.77 ERA in the circle in a debut season that saw Central (22-9-1) reach the D-I semifinals.
As a sophomore, she was 9-3 with a 0.64 ERA and hit .394 with four home runs and 23 RBIs as the Grizzlies (28-6) won the TRAC, then the school's first section title with a 4-0 victory over Clovis West in the D-I final.
As a junior, Rodriguez became the ace (after sharing pitching duties with Lindsey Clarkson for two seasons) and went 17-10 with a 0.82 ERA and 197 strikeouts in 171 innings while leading the Grizzlies (19-10) to a second-straight D-I title. She pitched a four-hitter in a 2-1 win over Bullard in the final.
"She has an extreme will to win," Gorton said. "She is just as highly competitive as you can get. She wasn't scared to put the team on her back and take them. She's a bold kid."
Rodriguez has come a long way since she was -- by her own admission -- the "worst player" on her first rec ball team. Even after she began to excel on the travel-ball circuit and in high school, many college recruiters dismissed her as too short to pitch at the NCAA D-I level until Boise State came calling.
"I never let that stop me because whatever I want to do, I'm going to do. I'm going to find a way to get it done. I don't care what anyone else has to say about it," Rodriguez said. "Softball has been so much for me. It's taught me to stay committed and that I can do anything. It's made me a completely different person. It's really been the centerpoint of my life. I just want to make everyone here who has supported me proud when I leave."THE BEE'S SOFTBALL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: RACHEL RODRIGUEZ Grade: School: Qualifications: