St. Amant loses match; star player Rodriguez injures left knee

ST. AMANT — The outcome of a regular-season matchup of the top two 2012 Division I postseason seeds took a back seat to an injury to one of the state’s top players Thursday evening.

St. Amant senior Toni Rodriguez, a Tennessee commitment and The Advocate’s 2012-13 Girls Athlete of the Year, suffered a left knee injury midway through the Gators’ loss to defending champion Mount Carmel, 25-16, 25-15, 25-15, at the Gold Dome.

Rodriguez appeared to fall after an attempt to return a Mount Carmel shot midway through the second set. She was carried off the court and did not return to the match.

St. Amant coach Allison Leake said Rodriguez should undergo an MRI on Friday. Rodriguez previously suffered a right knee injury playing basketball in the 2012-13 season.

“I might be biased, but I think we just saw the best player in the state go down,” Leake said.

Mount Carmel coach April Hagadone said Rodriguez’s injury also was on her players’ minds.

“You just think she’s a team captain, a leader over there, they rely on her so much,” Hagadone said. “It’s heartbreaking for the other team, as well. A lot of the girls know her from the club season. It’s a friendly rivalry.

“It was heartbreaking. We almost cried on the sideline just from watching her go down. I definitely think the whole mindset of the match changed once it happened.”

Even with Rodriguez on the court for St. Amant, Mount Carmel (3-0) still controlled the match almost from the start. The Cubs spotted the Gators (1-1) the first two points, then reeled off eight in a row.

St. Amant closed to 14-11, but two unforced errors stopped the Gators’ response.

Mount Carmel eventually posted six consecutive points to effectively put the first set away.

In the second set, the Cubs notched four points in a row to take control, but the Gators closed to 11-8. Then Rodriguez went down, and Mount Carmel scored 10 of the next 11 points to seal it.

The persistent Gators led Mount Carmel 8-7 in the third set, before Mount Carmel scored the next seven points to seal the set and the match.

“Obviously, no team practices for this,” Leake said. “As much as I want the girls to think about the game and think about the ball itself, every player and every coach knows that’s not the case. They’re thinking about one thing. … There is no way (Rodriguez’s injury) wouldn’t affect any team.”

Leake said she hopes Friday brings some good news, but she added the outlook of the season may be different now.

“I’m hoping (Friday) she has an MRI and everything is OK, and she’ll be back in a couple of weeks,” Leake said. “But if not, it’s definitely going to change the dynamic of what happens in the state.”