July 1, 2016

Roncalli scores championship ‘run’ with touch of class

The joy of the baseball team of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis shines through as the Rebels pose for a photo shortly after winning the Class 4A Indiana State High School Athletic Association championship on June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

The joy of the baseball team of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis shines through as the Rebels pose for a photo shortly after winning the Class 4A Indiana State High School Athletic Association championship on June 17 at Victory Field in Indianapolis. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The two scenes unfolded at the same time—one capturing the pure joy of winning a championship, the other capturing the essence of compassion.

Just seconds after the winning run scored to end the thrilling, extra-inning game on June 17, the players on the baseball team of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis rushed onto the field, jumping and hugging before diving on top of each other in a huge pile of arms, legs and “we-did-it!” smiles by first base.

Mere feet away, by the pitcher’s mound of Victory Field in Indianapolis, Roncalli seniors Cody Smith and Michael McAvene took turns consoling the Zionsville High School pitcher who had slumped to the ground in devastation, knowing that his top-ranked team’s dream of winning a state championship was now being lived by Roncalli.

It was a combined moment of celebration and sportsmanship during the Class 4A Indiana State High School Athletic Association baseball championship.

It was also a moment when the difference between heartbreak and jubilation is sometimes as razor-thin as a player touching a base just a split-second before the ball arrives—which was the deciding play in Roncalli’s 3-2 comeback victory.

“It was a great, back-and-forth game,” says Aaron Kroll, Roncalli’s head baseball coach. “When he was called safe at first [and the winning run scored], we pretty much went crazy. It was one of those moments you’ll never forget. It was pretty special.”

So were the actions of Smith, the catcher, and McAvene, the starting pitcher in the championship game.

“To reach out to the opposing pitcher in that moment, I thought it was remarkable for those two guys to do that—to show that kind of sportsmanship in a game like that,” Kroll says.

The championship—and the compassion—reflected the leadership that the 10 seniors on the team showed throughout the season, Kroll notes.

“The seniors did a great job,” the coach says. “Down the stretch, the team became really tough, really resilient. The team chemistry was great. They did a lot of activities together throughout the season. They became close at the right time, and they played well at the right time. That unity was important for the close games we had down the stretch. It’s been a special run for all of us.”

The championship was all the more special for Kroll because he celebrated it with his wife, Brooke, and their two children, 6-year-old Griffin and 5-year-old Kamryn.

“It meant a lot to share that moment with them because they make a lot of sacrifices for me to coach,” says Kroll, who has led the Roncalli baseball program for two years.

For the season, Roncalli finished with a record of 23 wins and nine losses, overcoming adversity along the way.

“At one point, we were 6 and 5. At another point, we were 9 and 7, and we lost our last regular season game,” Kroll says. “During the season, we had lost eight games by a combined total of 16 runs. We were losing a lot of close games.”

Yet the last close game led to Roncalli’s first-ever state championship in baseball.

“I’m not sure it’s fully sunk in yet,” Kroll says. “Just looking back on the whole thing, what we accomplished is so special. We will all be forever linked because of what we were able to accomplish.” †

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