Ace Malaya Majam-Finch, catcher Maiah Rodriguez unite to lead Fullerton softball

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FULLERTON — A special guest visited Fullerton’s softball team this week as the Indians prepared for the upcoming CIF-SS Division 4 championship game.

Jennie Finch, arguably the most famous softball player in history, attended a practice at Fullerton High, where her niece Malaya Majam-Finch is a standout freshman pitcher.

The two-time Olympic medalist and former University of Arizona All-American threw soft-toss batting practice, signed autographs, took pictures and gave the Indians a pep talk for their final against Foothill on Saturday.

“It was crazy seeing her in-person,” Fullerton catcher Maiah Rodriguez said of Finch. “She told us to have fun. It’s one (game) left, so just play it out. Just finish it.”

Two-time Olympic medalist Jennie Finch, pictured in the back row in sun glasses, visited Fullerton’s softball team, which includes her niece Malaya Majam-Finch. The Indians play Foothill for the CIF-SS Division 4 title on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine. (Photo by courtesy of Fullerton softball)

Fullerton (23-6) is one victory away from its first section title since 1984 in large part because of the teamwork between Majam-Finch and her batterymate Rodriguez.

Majam-Finch arrived at Fullerton with impressive credentials from playing travel ball with the powerhouse Corona Angels. She has delivered as expected, posting an 18-4 record with a 0.62 ERA and 146 strikeouts in 123 2/3 innings. She has walked only 11.

“With Malaya,” Rodriguez said, “she changed our team. She makes a big difference.”

But the Indians needed a catcher to handle the array of pitches from Majam-Finch, whose pitches average about 60-63 mph and move throughout the strike zone.

The catching duties also call for framing pitches on the plate for umpires and quickly reacting to occasional balls in the dirt.

These are the areas where Rodriguez has been a valuable contributor.

“She’s in probably the most valuable position outside of pitcher,” Fullerton coach Trevor Holton said Rodriguez. “She took our criticism and coaching so well, and I commend her on that. … and it’s really paying off.”

Rodriguez, who plays travel ball for the SoCal Athletics, said it was challenging at first to catch Majam-Finch but believes she has improved as the season progressed. Her star pitcher certainly agrees.

“Maiah has grown a lot,” said Majam-Finch, who throws a screwball, curveball, changeup, dropball and riseball. “We learn from each other.”

Majam-Finch has made her own adjustments. The 14-year-old said she has learned to compete against experienced hitters by working off the plate and becoming more comfortable with walks.

“I had to learn how to navigate the zone, especially against those good hitters,” she said, “and trusting my defense.”

Majam-Finch and Rodriguez have both raised their level of play in the postseason. Majam-Finch is 4-0 in the circle while Rodriguez is hitting .400 with a home run and six RBIs.

The Indians, who went 5-17 in 2021, are in the finals for the first time since 2006.

Majam-Finch and Rodriguez also bond off the field. They sit next to each other in the same photography class.

On Saturday, Fullerton will be seeking a picture-perfect finish in the stadium where Majam-Finch captured a PGF 10-and-under national title in 2019. The section final is set for Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine at 12:30 p.m.

“Really good memories,” Majam-Finch said of the stadium. “We’re all so excited. Coach Trevor has been thinking about this and looking forward to this the whole year. It’s what we’ve worked for.”

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