PHARR — After a tremendous senior season anchoring a dangerous Edinburg North lineup, Hope Rodriguez has been named The Monitor’s All-Area Softball Offensive Player of the Year.

Rodriguez, who helped lead the Cougars to a third place district finish and a state tournament appearance, was an offensive force throughout the 2019 season. The senior tallied a .580 batting average, 52 RBIs, 51 hits and eight home runs — all team highs — for Edinburg North this past season.

“I was just very focused and honestly just stayed within myself and tried to do what I could for the team,” Rodriguez said. “In my (earlier) years, I was very selfish and I think my senior year was me growing into a more responsible and a better version of me to be a team player.”

Rodriguez was introduced to softball at a young age and immediately clicked with the sport. She first picked up a bat at 4 years old and hasn’t looked back since, now having played almost a decade of travel ball in addition to playing in her school colors.

“I just like it and everything that comes along with it,” she said. “I tried ballet, I tried cheerleading and tried everything. Softball stuck with me and I played it throughout my career and I’m even continuing my career after high school.”

A four-year starter on the Cougars varsity softball squad, Rodriguez enjoyed success throughout her high school playing career. As a freshman, she helped carry Edinburg North to the Sweet 16 of the UIL state playoffs.

Although her team didn’t bring home any hardware, Rodriguez absorbed as much as she could from the experience and older players at the time, which has helped her grow her game and consistently improve from year to year.

“That was a high expectation. That was one of the brighter parts of my life,” Rodriguez said. “I was still young and I didn’t have such a great freshman year, but the leaders on that team really helped me grow and my sophomore year was statistically one of my best years because I had that chip on my shoulder and I wanted to keep doing more and that just kept getting bigger throughout the four years. Ultimately, my senior year was the best of my high school career.”

The 2019 Edinburg North graduate also talked about the evolution of her game throughout school. She was forced to transition from an upstart freshman slugger to a veteran leader and calming presence in the dugout.

“I think it was just growing, learning that it’s not just about you; it’s about everybody,” Rodriguez said. “I used to not understand the concept of a single base hit: I either wanted to hit a home run or a triple. It just leads to a poor approach of ‘I wanna get on, I wanna score.’ It wasn’t just about myself any more and that helped me progress along the way. That’s why I feel like I made it to the next level because I was consistent within myself and also with my team and helping my team.”

Rolling over that knowledge into this past year, Rodriguez was able to lead the Cougars as one of just a few returning veteran starters on the squad.

She clubbed 21 extra-base hits and registered a staggering 1.626 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) leading Edinburg North to a 22-11 regular season record as the centerpiece of her team’s offense. However, Rodriguez readily admits her most important contribution was as a mentor to the team’s youngest contributors.

“Last year my coach really depended on me to talk to the girls and to get them together and to get them to understand the concept of softball,” she said. “What helped me was all the past years of travel ball, all the past years of extra teams I’ve played with because I was able to have that experience and have that knowledge of talking to everybody and getting my team to do what we needed to do.”

“My team was very, very focused and we were also very young. We had a lot of young players. It was important for myself and for my pitcher, Natalie Rodriguez, to keep everybody calm and to keep everybody on the same page. I think in the beginning of the year we struggled, but by the second or third tournament we kind of got it together. We kind of realized that it wasn’t about personal issues or problems and we were able to glue like a team towards the end which helped us.”

Rodriguez signed a national letter of intent recently to continue her playing career at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin. She, along with two of her Edinburg North teammates, was tabbed as all-state softball selections at the end of season.

However, the most memorable moment of Rodriguez’s spectacular senior season came during her final at-bat in a Cougars uniform: the ultimate show of respect that cemented her place as the Valley’s most intimidating offensive playmaker.

“My favorite moment this past season was our final game and my final game as a high school player. The way I’ll always remember it was my last high school at-bat was an intentional walk,” Rodriguez said.

“To me, it was a cool note to end on and I was really pleased with myself because I had so much respect among the other coaches. I was intentionally walked a lot, but for you to say that your last at-bat, the last one of your whole high school career was an intentional walk is pretty cool and definitely one of my favorite moments that I’ll always carry.”