June 24, 2022

Roncalli’s softball team is state champion, No. 1 in the nation

The members of the softball team of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis celebrate their state championship on June 11, after beating the team from Harrison High School, 16-0. (Submitted photo)

The members of the softball team of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis celebrate their state championship on June 11, after beating the team from Harrison High School, 16-0. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

The achievements are staggering for the softball team of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.

The Royals are ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Their star pitcher, Keagan Rothrock, is the national high school player of the year in the sport.

And on June 11, the team earned its second straight Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 4A state championship, capping off a perfect season of winning all of its 33 games by beating the team from Harrison High School 16-0.

Yet, to understand the true essence of the team, head coach David Lauck offers a defining and touching moment from the last inning of the state championship game.

As the Royals came to bat, Keagan was scheduled as the leadoff hitter. But Lauck told her he was putting in senior Ally Walesky as a pinch-hitter for her. And Keagan couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Last year, Keagan and Ally formed a close bond as the team’s main pitcher and catcher, and Ally was the hero of the 2021 state championship game, hitting two home runs to lead the Royals. But after one game this year, Ally tore a knee ligament and she has spent the rest of her senior season watching others play the game she loves—until Lauck told her she was pinch-hitting.

“She comes up, and everyone in the dugout is crying, and she gets a standing ovation from our fans,” Lauck recalls.

There would be no fairytale ending to the at-bat as Ally scorched a line drive into center field that was caught, but her return to the dugout was magical.

“When she came back to the dugout, everyone hugged her and embraced her,” Lauck says. “It showed how beloved she is. That was a special moment. To celebrate her and see her teammates rally around her is what this team is all about.”

As close as the Royals are, they are also dominant. In the seven games they played in the state tournament, they outscored their opponents 60-5. Part of that dominance is a reflection of the team’s talent, drive and leadership—qualities that the Royals’ five seniors have in abundance, Lauck says. Besides Ally, the group includes Tori Candler, Kylie Freije, Courtney Keller and Cate Lehner.

“Just a hard-working, fun group of leaders that really bought in—early in their high school careers—of doing whatever we needed,” their coach says. “They’re the leaders of the program that have won 46 straight games.”

Lauck also praises his star pitcher, describing Keagan, a junior, as “a dream to coach.”

“When your best player is your hardest worker and your best leader, it goes a long way.”

Still, there’s always the challenge as a coach to keep a team motivated and focused, especially when the team is ranked No. 1 in the nation and every opponent is motivated and focused to ruin that ranking. Lauck adopted two main strategies to keep the Royals from getting complacent.

“As the No. 1 team in the country with an undefeated record, you have a target on your back,” he says. “We worked a lot on trying to maintain an ‘underdog’ mentality. That was one of our mottos—to work and play as an underdog.”

Another part of the success equation was the coaching staff’s efforts to keep the joy in the game, an approach that came into play again three days before the state championship.

That’s when Lauck invited all the people who have supported the team—Roncalli students, administrators, family members, friends and grade school children who view the players as their heroes—to come to a practice to celebrate with the girls.

“It was our way to give back,” says Lauck, a 1994 Roncalli graduate who has won 330 of the 400 games he has coached for his alma mater. “It was standing-room only. After 30 minutes of practicing, our players started taking pictures and signing autographs. We opened up the field. We opened up the dugout, and we turned on the music and celebrated with the community. This team has captured the hearts of our school and our community.”

Three days later, the team captured its second straight state championship. In doing so, they made Lauck just the fourth coach in Indiana’s high school softball history to win at least three state championships, including Roncalli’s 2012 team.

Deflecting the attention from himself, Lauck views the success as a combination of the commitment of the coaches, players and the families of the players, plus the support of the administration, the student body and the community.

“Mostly it’s about the belief of building a team and playing for the team instead of for themselves,” he says. “Being united has always been one of the key things we talk about.

“What stands out the most about this team is the camaraderie and the togetherness they have. There’s also their toughness, and their skill and ability level were exceptional. And they were just a fun-loving group. You combine having fun and add in some love there, and that’s a recipe for a successful season.” †

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