Roncalli softball caps perfect season with state title

WEST LAFAYETTE

The stadium hosting the four softball state championship games is slightly less than six miles south of Harrison High School.

If there’s a team equipped to convincingly snuff out any sort of home-county advantage, it’s Roncalli.

The Royals, the definition of dominant the entire season, weren’t about to stray off course Saturday night. They pounded the hometown Raiders in record-obliterating fashion, 16-0, in the Class 4A title matchup at Purdue’s Bittinger Stadium.

The win caps a spotless 33-0 season for Roncalli, making it the first undefeated 4A champ since Hamilton Southeastern in 2007. Prior to Saturday, the last unbeaten champion in any class was South Putnam, which went 31-0 in 2012.

Ranked atop the 4A poll since the first pitch of the season in early April, the Royals took every opponent’s best shot and made it through unscathed — and rarely challenged — as they ran their win streak to 46 games dating back to the 2021 season.

“We did have a target on our back all year,” said Roncalli coach David Lauck, who in 14 seasons has led the program to three 4A crowns, including the last two. “We had an opportunity to practice this week. We got in four practices in a row, and that’s very rare to do.

“(Players) were locked in all week long. It’s a very experienced team, a very veteran team, and they came out tonight and overpowered them.”

Not immediately, however.

The game was delayed 2 hours, 3 minutes due to lightning in the area shortly after completion of the 2A state championship contest between Eastside and North Posey.

Once action finally started at 9:03 p.m., the Royals were chomping at the bit to demonstrate why they are ranked first in the nation by MaxPreps and No. 2 by USA Today.

Junior leadoff hitter Lyla Blackwell produced the first of her three singles in the top of the first inning. She stole second, moved to third base on a fielder’s choice and, just like that, it was a 1-0 score after junior right fielder Abbey Hofmann singled her home.

Roncalli put the game away in the third inning, tacking on eight more runs — a scoring output again kick-started by, surprise, Blackwell singling and stealing second base. What followed was Carley Keller’s single, a double to deep center field courtesy of Hofmann, junior pitcher Keagan Rothrock’s triple and a single from Kylie Freije.

Senior Tori Candler capped the scoring, her two-run homer off Harrison starter Sydney Miller caroming off the top of the fence in right center.

“Actually, before the game, Kylie (Freije) told me, ‘Hey, in this game you’re going to hit it 225 (feet) to dead center,’” Candler said. “I said, well, it’s easier said than done, but I’ll try my best. I just saw that pitch, and I said, that one’s gone.”

With no 10-run rule in effect for state championship games, all seven innings were played, which only provided the Royals additional opportunities to continue rewriting the finals record book.

In all, Roncalli placed its name next to eight standards. Rothrock, meanwhile, did what Rothrock does, going the distance in the circle, allowing two Raider hits, walking one batter and striking out 15.

She finished the season with a record of 28-0 and 381 strikeouts against 18 walks on 170 1/3 innings of work.

Teams shouldering so much expectation have sometimes been known to fold at some point. According to Candler, the Royals never once were tempted to look over their collective shoulder.

“We tried not to worry about that kind of stuff because we work really well together and all get along really well. We’re always trying to have as much fun in the dugout as we can,” Candler said. “The possibility of losing is always going to be there. Nobody’s always going to be perfect.

“But we always try to keep a positive mindset and go in thinking we’re going to win.”

Lauck understands it’s inevitable for the most recent Roncalli ball clubs to be compared, as many of the players involved in hoisting the latest additions to the school trophy case are the same.

There are differences, however. The 2021 team was the school’s first state softball finalist since Roncalli captured the Class 3A title a decade earlier.

“Last year’s team hadn’t experienced the state championship stage, so it was all new to us. And so we were just kind of surviving, surviving, surviving,” Lauck said. “Whereas this year’s team with the experience and the veteran leadership, they’ve been there, done that.

“They knew how to prepare, and they knew what to expect.”