IMMOKALEE — More than 20 minutes had elapsed since the final out was recorded in Immokalee’s 2019 season, but the tears continued to stream down Jillian Rodriguez’s face.
This season – her fourth and final one for Immokalee – carried plenty of significance and emotion, which is why it was so tough for her to say goodbye.
“This season meant everything to me,” Rodriguez said as she fought back her emotions following the team’s 2-1 loss to Mariner in a 6A regional quarterfinal on May 8 at Immokalee High School. “This team is my favorite team. I would do anything for these girls. They made it memorable, they made it historical. They came out and played their hearts out for us three seniors. I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for us and this team. I know next year they’ll keep getting better and the years after. It’s not going to stop anytime soon.”
This year’s team won the Collier County Athletic Conference for the second year in a row, but it also accomplished two things no other softball team at Immokalee had ever done: win a district championship and play in a regional tournament game.
Rodriguez, a pitcher and outfielder who is headed to Nashville, Tennessee, to play for Tennessee State, won’t soon be forgotten.
“She’s a phenomenal softball player, but even a better person,” said Immokalee coach Ruben Lucio, who coached Rodriguez in her final two softball seasons and one soccer season. “She’s just one of those who is willing to do it all for the team, do the extra work that’s needed.”
Rodriguez and the team’s other two seniors helped turn the program into one of the elite teams in Southwest Florida.
“You can look at the track record of this program and where it was and where it’s come from, and it’s because of players like her,” Lucio said. “Players that are willing to work the extra hours and willing to do the extra little things that make a program successful at the end of the day.”
Rodriguez’s high school career has ended, but her sister’s career is just getting warmed up. It didn’t take long for Ava Nunez to establish herself as one of the top pitchers in Southwest Florida. She was named one of three finalists for the Naples Daily News Softball Player of the Year (the winner had not been announced as of press time for this issue of the Tribune).
Nunez threw a perfect game in the district semifinals, a 12-0 win against Golden Gate. So smooth and quick was Nunez’s outing that nobody realized her accomplishment until after the game.
“She just mowed people down that game,” Lucio said. “I don’t think it occurred to anyone that she retired 15 batters in a row with no one getting on. She’s just a phenomenal pitcher.”
She returned to the circle and fired a three-hit shutout as Immokalee captured its first-ever district title with a 4-0 win against Lely in the 6A-District 12 championship.
“She’s always on her game,” Rodriguez said about her younger sister. “Those past two games, she did her thing. She always comes in big for us. She’s amazing.”
Nunez has three more years left of high school ball. Immokalee should be strong again next year.
“We bring back seven starters. There’s already eighth-graders itching to get up here. It’s not stopping,” said Lucio, whose team finished with an 18-7 record.