AU Softball: Haylie McCleney makes big leaps in Week 2
McCleney was the week's biggest riser.
Keagan Rothrock was 6 years old when she started pitching. And she admittedly wasn’t very good.
“I could not throw strikes,” Rothrock said. “I went to lessons a lot.”
But a lot has changed in 11 years.
Rothrock now boasts an impressive resume as a dual threat both in the circle and in the batter’s box. During her 2022 high school season at Roncalli (Ind.), she recorded a 0.70 ERA and a .529 batting average, earning Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year honors along the way.
It was one for the history books as the Royals shattered records in extra-base hits, total bases, slugging percentage and errorless games. They’ve won 46 consecutive games, one shy of tying the state’s record, and with Rothrock in the pitcher’s circle, the Royals became back-to-back Class 4A state champions.
“It was a really good feeling knowing all of our hard work paid off in the end. It was really rewarding,” Rothrock said.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Rothrock secured the victory. She faced her last batter in what she calls a longer at-bat — five pitches. Rothrock’s first two pitches were strikes. Her third pitch — a rise ball — was a little too out of the zone. The batter fouled off the next pitch. With the count at 1-2, Rothrock delivered a fifth and final pitch. The batter swung and missed, and the Royals were once again state champs.
Roncalli fans were jubilant, as Rothrock threw off her mask and glove with a swarm of Royals enveloping her.
“She’s a fierce competitor,” Roncalli coach David Lauck said. “… The effort she puts in to be great is recognized by her teammates. She’s our hardest worker, our best player, our best leader.”
Rothrock has also shined on the international stage as well. As a member of the USA Softball U-18 Women’s National Team, Rothrock competed in the 2021 Junior Pan American Games and World Baseball Softball Confederation Women’s Softball World Cup, where she helped Team USA win a pair of gold medals. She amassed 37 strikeouts and allowed just one hit while recording an impressive 0.00 ERA throughout the two tournaments.
In the offseason, she worked to improve her batting. She led Roncalli with 14 home runs, a 366 percent increase from the year before, and she recorded 55 RBIs.
In the circle, she compiled a 28-0 record with eight no-hitters and five perfect games, but despite her eye-popping numbers on the field, Rothrock was still surprised by the award.
“It still surprises me every time I get something. I know there’s a ton of players who could get it,” she said.
Before the state championship game, Rothrock came to practice dressed for photos. As she walked up to the field, she saw big cameras everywhere and a crowd of familiar faces in the stands. The team practiced as usual, until Lauck stopped practice. Photographers made their way onto the field. Lined up for photos, Lauck delivered the good news, his voice booming over the loudspeaker.
“Keagan is not only an Indiana player of the year, she’s been named the Gatorade Player of the Year,” he said.
Roncalli sits 15 minutes from downtown Indianapolis. In a city known for passionate sports fans, the school’s softball team draws a crowd.
Rothrock and her teammates have become local celebrities of sorts. At the end of their games, they go out to meet the young fans. With softballs and phones in hand, the girls approach to get an autograph or picture.
“She’s kind of turned our community upside down,” Lauck said. “She’s available. She’s got open arms and a genuine personality that fans gravitate to.”
It started in 2021. After the 2020 season was canceled, the community began to buzz about the upcoming season.
“There was a lot of talk around Roncalli softball,” she said.
After fans started showing up in masses, it didn’t take long for the team to embrace their hometown fame.
“I love talking to all the little girls,” Rothrock said. “Just to be able to brighten their day, I had role models when I was younger. It’s nice to give back.”
Rothrock picked up her first softball as a toddler. At age 3, she started playing tee-ball.
“Me and my mom would joke around in the backyard, she’d have me pitch,” Rothrock said.
Rothrock’s mother Laura pitched at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, and under Laura’s guidance, Keagan has been able to grow and perfect the craft.
At age 7, she joined her first travel team, aptly named the Indiana Gators. Soon, Rothrock will be a Florida Gator, a commitment she made in seventh grade.
“I’ve wanted to be a Gator forever. That was the initial reason. Once we got into the recruiting process, all of it was just awesome,” she said. “They’re one of the top schools in the country for education as well.”
School is also important to Rothrock. With a 4.06 GPA, Rothrock plans to pursue pre-med at Florida, with her sights set on becoming a pediatrician.
On and off the field, Rothrock is committed to succeeding. When she steps into the Gainesville locker room, she’ll be surrounded by familiar faces, having played with all but one of the girls in the 2023 class.
“She’ll have a lot of eyes when she steps onto campus,” Lauck said. “But I do feel like she’s excited, and I hope she’s a little nervous, too. That leads to her preparation. She just continues to prepare mentally, physically and spiritually.”
Lucky for Lauck, Rothrock has one final year with the Royals, and she plans to cherish every moment.
“[Memories] are going to last forever,” Rothrock said. “Not everybody gets to experience that.”
Nika Anschuetz is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @nlanschuetz.
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