The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

CSM leadoff hitter Melina Rodriguez had a 34-game hitting streak between 2014 and ’15. Photo by Terry Bernal/Daily Journal

CSM leadoff hitter Melina Rodriguez had a 34-game hitting streak between 2014 and ’15. Photo by Terry Bernal/Daily Journal

College of San Mateo Softball’s leadoff hitter Melina Rodriguez was likely en route to a state batting crown when catastrophic injury struck.

The Lady Bulldogs’ sophomore was sitting atop the state leader board in batting average on Feb. 28 when she played her last game in over a month. Following a first-inning single against College of the Sequoias, Rodriguez advanced to third base on a bunt by Kayleen Smith. But as the Bulldogs’ sparkplug barreled into third with a hook slide, she felt an excruciating pop in her shoulder.

It was clear Rodriguez had suffered a dislocated shoulder. She knew immediately what the problem was, as two weeks prior she had experienced a similar mishap, though not nearly as serious.

“The second time it actually popped out of the socket all the way,” Rodriguez said. “It hurt for a while. It was out for a quick second. Then it popped back in. They said if it hadn’t have popped back in, it would have been worse.”

Rodriguez went on to miss 13 games, the most downtime she’s ever experienced in her softball career. The first 48 hours were the scariest as no one in the CSM mix knew what the future held for her. Three days later though, the diagnosis confirmed Rodriguez would likely be available to return before the end of the season.

And until her return April 2 against De Anza, Rodriguez maintained her day-in, day-out cornerstone presence.

“She wasn’t able to practice, but she was there every day,” CSM freshman Harlee Donovan said.

It was Donovan who filled in at first base for Rodriguez. A high school catcher at Half Moon Bay who moved to third base at CSM this season, Donovan had never played first base before.

“I wasn’t comfortable at all,” Donovan said. “I was nervous the whole time.”

So, Rodriguez worked with her on a daily basis in practice, and served as a vocal leader by coaching Donovan from the bench during games. All the while, despite having one arm immobilized, Rodriguez was working diligently to get back onto the diamond.

“I would be in the training room just strengthening my arm,” Rodriguez said. “I would still hit with one arm and just leave the other one in my sling.”

During Rodriguez’s absence, the Bulldogs faced their two toughest tests en route to an undefeated 35-0 record in regular-season play. On March 5, they edged San Joaquin Delta 4-3. A week later, on March 12, they downed Cabrillo 1-0. The victories were the only two one-run games CSM played in all season.

“It was hard. I think we definitely missed her,” Donovan said. “But knowing we could hang in there without her was huge. And having her back now, it’s even better.”

Rodriguez was an instant splash upon her return. In a 16-0 win over DeAnza April 2, she led off with a single and went on to a 2-for-3 day, extending a hitting streak, dating back to last season, to 29 games.

“Mentally-wise, I was a hundred percent,” Rodriguez said. “I was ready to play and was too excited. I ended up getting my first when I came up for my first at-bat, and everybody kept yelling, ‘oh, look who’s back.’ That was awesome.”

Rodriguez went on to extend her hitting streak to 34 games before having it snapped Sunday in CSM’s win in the regional playoff finale against American River. She is currently hitting .581 (43 for 74), though she is 18 at-bats shy of qualifying among the state leaders. Lauren Melchor of San Bernardino Valley College currently leads the state with a .578 batting average.

CSM hosts the four-team Super Regional playoff round with play opening Friday. The No. 2-seed Bulldogs take on No. 10 West Valley at 2 p.m. No. 3 Diablo Valley plays No. 8 Delta at 4 p.m. Three games are slated for Saturday in the double-elimination tourney. The bracket’s championship round begins Sunday at noon to determine thoroughfare into the state final four.