On April 24, for the second time in graduate student Paige Rauch’s Villanova career, she held the opposition hitless.
But if not for a change to Rauch’s mindset pregame, she may not have made program history.
“Pitching the bookends of the series is always tough the second time around,” Rauch said, “but we also had a stomach bug going around that made our pitching staff thin. I knew that I had to go deep into this game one way or another, which actually made me pitch much more aggressively.”
This could be seen in the box score, as Rauch struck out four batters and walked one in a 92-pitch outing. This was dramatically different than her first career no-hitter, on Feb. 15, 2020, against Florida Atlantic, when she fanned 13 and threw 111 pitches.
Rauch’s no-no put an exclamation point on a series shutout for the pitching staff against Providence, marking the first time in program history that Villanova held an opponent without a run over a three-game series.
If that was not enough, Rauch also had her fingerprints all over the box score with her bat, going 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.
Rauch contributing in both the circle and the box is nothing new. The Windsor, N.Y., native is the Wildcats’ best starting pitcher, leading the team’s starters in wins (14), ERA (2.48), and strikeouts (140) in a team-high 124 ⅓ innings. At the dish, Rauch is no slouch either, hitting .301 with a team-best 10 home runs and 31 RBIs.
“I think that I would be bored if I was just a pitcher who doesn’t hit,” Rauch said. “That really gave me the motivation to work hard with my swing so that I could be in the lineup early in my career.”
Before becoming a two-way star for the Wildcats, Rauch excelled under current Villanova coach Bridget Orchard with the Fordham Rams. In 2018, she took home the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year award and earned first team all-conference honors.
“I had a really great group of girls at Fordham that just made me comfortable,” Rauch said. “But when I finally made that jump to Division I after high school, I realized that they were not joking about the speed of the game being different.”
Rauch transferred to Villanova after her freshman year, following Orchard to Philadelphia, and quickly proved that the step up in competition was not too much for her. In her first season with the Wildcats, Rauch won Big East Player of the Year, led the entire NCAA in slugging percentage (.935), and set a program single-season record with 18 home runs.
Even though Rauch had received conference accolades with the Rams, she knew she needed to “break down” her swing after her freshman year to take her game to the next level.
“[Assistant] Coach Gabby [Luety] worked so hard touching up my mechanics,” Rauch said. “No one realizes how long it takes to transform a swing like that.”
The results have led to record-breaking seasons both for Rauch and the entire Villanova program. Rauch was named the Big East Player of the Year — for the second time — and pitcher of the year in 2021, and earned third-team All-America honors. Villanova, meanwhile, is 108-73 since Orchard took over and won the program’s first-ever Big East Championship in 2021.
After a 14-19 start to the season, Rauch and the Wildcats have won 14 of their last 16 games and are focused on retaining their Big East title following a series-opening 4-3 loss to Connecticut on Friday in Storrs, Conn. The Big East tournament is scheduled to begin May 12.
“I think UConn is going to be a great test ahead of the Big East tournament,” Rauch said. “We just have to make sure that the mental and physical aspects are together to put us in the best position to repeat that Big East championship.”