By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Hailey Roderique admitted she was caught somewhat by surprise.
Roderique, 5-foot-9 freshman reserve, averaged one point and just under one rebound in 5.2 minutes off the bench for Pittsburg State during the regular season.
But in last Friday’s South Central Regional Tournament opener against Central Missouri, Roderique was summoned approximately four minutes after the opening tip.
“Maybe I kind of looked down ... did he say me?” Roderique said Wednesday afternoon. “We had worked really hard at practice all week, and Coach Lord wanted all of us to be prepared. It was kind of shocking, but it was good. I was glad that he had the confidence in me to do it.”
“We wanted to get the ball to go inside to Lizzy (Jeronimus) or Larissa (Richards),” PSU coach Lane Lord said. “We know that Hailey is going to do what we ask her to do, and she’s going to do it at 100 percent all the time. We’ve asked her to play the 2, 3 and 4 spots and be solid, and she’s done that.”
Roderique played 22 minutes against the Jennies and collected five points, eight rebounds, one assist and two steals. She came back the next day and had four points, two rebounds, three assists and two steals in a season-high 24 minutes in the semifinal victory over Northeastern State. Because of defensive matchup problems, she played only nine minutes in the regional championship victory over Emporia State.
“They were posting me up, and we needed bigger guards that game,” Roderique explained. “Our whole team can step up and play whenever.”
“She had some spots where she played a little more during the regular season,” Lord said. “When it comes down to this time of year, it’s a trust factor. She’s a winner, she’s hard-nosed. We trust her to do her job, which is to drive the ball, crash the offensive glass and play great defense. She’s really become one of our better defensive players.
“The biggest thing about Hailey Roderique is we trust her to make plays and trust her to play hard all of the time. A lot of that has to do with her high school coach, her high school program and her parents. I said she has great genetics, and I was talking about her mental makeup. What you have to have are tough kids who will dig down deep when the going gets tough, and I know Hailey will do that for us.”
The Gorillas (27-5) have advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history. They will play Shaw, N.C. (26-6) in a quarterfinal game at 6 p.m. next Tuesday in San Antonio.
Roderique, who totaled 26 points, 23 rebounds, 11 assists and four steals in 25 games before the regional, has adjusted to coming off the bench for the Gorillas after starting four years at Webb City High School.
“I kind of knew what I was coming into this season,” Roderique said. “It was a little difficult to go from playing the whole game to not getting all that much time. But with my teammates, the transition was easy. We all came together and knew our roles.”
The regional championship celebration brought back memories for Roderique of the state title that Webb City won her junior season.
“They are similar. Both are very exciting,” she said. “I feel very priviledged to be a part of both.”
The Gorillas finished second behind Washburn in the MIAA title chase, but they lost to Lincoln in the first round of the conference postseason tournament. That loss provided motivation entering regional play.
“We knew we had to come back and work harder at practice,” Roderique said. “Not that we weren’t before Lincoln, but we went into the game kind of thinking, hoping that we would win and go on. But we lost and we were done. We knew that was going to be how it was the rest of the season, so we didn’t want that to happen again.”