By Mark Ambrogi
As the defending Class 4A state champion with one of the nation’s top high school pitchers in junior Keagan Rothrock, the Roncalli High School softball team took a unique approach to the season.
“We played with a chip on our shoulder all season and looked at everything from an underdog point of view,” said Rothrock, who was named the 2022 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year. I think that really helped us throughout the post season and it allowed us to continue playing as a team.”
Rothrock allowed just two hits in a 16-0 rout of Lafayette Harrison in the 4A state championship game June 11 at Purdue University’s Bittinger Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. Rothrock finished with a 28-0 record for the Royals (33-0). The Royals set state record for runs, hits (18) and runs batted in (16).
“It was really sweet to go undefeated,” said Rothrock, who has committed to the University of Florida. “We put in a ton of hours off the field to grow together as a team and we also worked hard at practice and gave it our all. I think we had a great combination of amazing team chemistry and hard-working girls as well who wanted to win it all again this year. Those two things made it all the sweeter to go undefeated.”
The Royals have won 46 consecutive games, dating back to 2021. That’s one shy of 47 consecutive victories by Lake Central in 2004-05.
It was the fifth state championship for the Roncalli softball program and the third for Royals coach David Lauck.
“I felt like our regular season schedule prepared us for the tournament run,” Lauck said. “We played in some close games in the tournament, and the girls never flinched. Then they put it all together in the state championship game. “
The state title is the program’s fifth and second straight. The Royals are the first Class 4A team to repeat as state champions since Martinsville in 2005-06. Roncalli (33-0) became the fifth undefeated state champions in the 38-year history of the IHSAA state softball tournament.
“It’s very special to go undefeated,” Lauck said. “It wasn’t a season goal. But these girls put so much work into becoming great players and teammates, that once they set their sights on something (going undefeated), it’s hard to stop them.”
Rothrock, who had a 0.70 earned run average, struck out 382 batters in 170 1/3 innings. Lauck said Rothrock kept getting stronger on the mound as the season went on.
“There were some regular season games where she wasn’t as sharp as she wanted to be,” he said. “But she made physical and mental adjustments and shut down every team in the tournament.”
Rothrock made considerable improvement at the plate with a .523 average with team-high 14 home runs and tied junior right fielder Abbey Hofmann for the team lead with 55 RBIs. Hofmann hit .521 with 10 homers.
Junior center fielder Lyla Blackwell also hit .523 to tie for the team lead in average with Rothrock. Blackwell, who has committed to play for Virginia Tech in the 2023-24 school year, established new records for most runs scored (4) and most stolen bases (4) in a championship game. She tied the Class 4A state championship game record with three hits, as did her senior teammate Cate Lehner. Lehner set a 4A record with four runs batted in.
“Lyla works extremely hard at her craft and that is finding ways to get on base, and do whatever she can to score,” Lauck said. “She was fantastic all season – and got better as the season progressed. The bigger the stage, the more focused she became. Not too many high school kids can play like that. And she knows that her ability to get on base leads directly to our success.”
Lehner, who will play for Butler University next season, batted .465.
“Cate Lehner is arguably the best athlete in the school,” Lauck said. “She was incredible defensively, and fights like crazy at the plate. Her presence will be missed defensively and at the plate.”
In addition to Lehner, the Royals graduate four other seniors, catcher Ally Walesky, third baseman Kylie Frieje, infielder Tori Candler and first baseman Courtney Keller.
Lauck said the senior leadership was excellent.
Candler, who will play for Centre College in Danville, Ky., hit .432 with 12 homers, including one in the state final against Harrison. Frieje (.390) will play for Reinhardt University and Keller (.326) will play for Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
Walesky, who was injured early in the season, returned to pinch-hit in the state championship game. Walesky had homered twice in state championship victory over Lake Central in 2021.
Junior shortstop Lauren Marsicek, an Indiana State University commit, had a .388 batting average.