Ryan O’Leary: On and on like a broken record


When Lyla Blackwell reached on an error in the sixth inning of Saturday night’s Class 4A state championship game against West Lafayette Harrison, Roncalli coach David Lauck signaled clearly across the field from the third-base coaching box.

Don’t. Go. Anywhere.

The Royals already had a comfortable 12-0 lead, and Lauck wanted to avoid the appearance of piling on. Blackwell, though, was pleading for an exception so that she could set a new championship-game record for stolen bases.

“I was like, ‘No, no, no,’ and she was like, ‘Please, please, please? One more?’” Lauck said of the exchange with his leadoff hitter. “I’m like, ‘Whatever.’ The Harrison fans weren’t too happy with that, but I turned around and I was like, ‘I didn’t give her the sign! She has the green light!’”

As it turned out, Blackwell was already in possession of the record — the official scorer had credited her with the needed third steal when she took an extra base after her second bunt single of the third inning. So the theft in the sixth gave her four for the night, doubling the old mark, but the junior center fielder didn’t know that at the time, so she felt compelled to go for it.

“Honest to goodness, a lot of times when he says, ‘Don’t steal,’ I don’t steal,” Blackwell insisted. “But this one time, I was like, I’ve never just done something just for me this season.”

Blackwell’s exploits on the basepaths were just one part of a record-shattering performance by the Royals in what wound up as a 16-0 victory. Roncalli set new team title-game marks for runs and runs batted in (16), hits (18), margin of victory and hits in an inning (nine). Blackwell set another individual standard with four runs scored; Cate Lehner, batting in the No. 9 spot, tied a record with four RBIs.

The onslaught came in front of a sellout crowd at Purdue’s Bittinger Stadium, a much different atmosphere than the one that the Royals soaked up a year ago after they defeated Lake Central in the 4A championship game at Center Grove.

Having had to wait through that and a canceled 2020 season to finally get to this moment in this place was already enough — but then there was the two-hour rain delay that pushed back the start of Saturday’s game to just after 9 p.m. It was right around midnight by the time Roncalli’s players were done taking pictures with the championship trophy, but the delayed gratification was no less gratifying.

“It was so worth it,” said junior pitcher Keagan Rothrock, who showed why she was named Gatorade’s National Player of the Year this week by pitching a two-hit shutout and striking out 15 batters. “We had so much fun in the dugout, we had so much fun together on the field, and it was just awesome. We definitely came out here and had the time of our lives.”

Lauck pointed out what was already obvious to the weary scribes within earshot — that the delay made for a very long day. His team had been together since 2 p.m. and was all set for a scheduled 7 o’clock start before being forced back onto the bus during the storms, but that extra wait didn’t make the Royals more tense or nervous.

If anything, it had the opposite effect.

“Honestly, I thought it was easier to keep ourselves loose,” Rothrock said. “We rocked out on the bus. A lot of us just relaxed. Most of us danced up and down the bus aisle; we made a couple of TikToks. I definitely think that helped keep us loose.”

“There’s not a time that you can get us off beat,” Blackwell added. “There’s never a time that we are not smiling our faces off. That’s one thing that I’m going to miss about this team — we are always smiling.”

As Saturday night started to bleed over into Sunday morning, the Royals’ smiling and dancing just continued on and on …

Like a broken record.