INDIANAPOLIS — After losing her entire sophomore season to the COVID pandemic and missing most of her junior season due to injury, Tori Candler has been healthy and hitting in 2022, especially as of late.
The Roncalli senior entered Wednesday’s Sectional 11 championship game with home runs in two straight games. She finished the night with four homers over her past three games, with her second dinger of the night — a two-run blast in the bottom of the fifth — capping off a 10-0 run-rule win over New Palestine.
The defending Class 4A state champions are moving on.
Avon repeats as sectional champs: ‘We knew this should be ours again.’
IHSAA softball sectionals: Scores, schedule, updated pairings
“Honestly, I’ve kept the same approach ever at bat,” said Candler, who spent both pre-game weather delays hanging out in the dugout, eating Oreos. “I scan the field, take a deep breath, stretch out my shoulders and walk in there looking to hit a line drive.”
Candler has been dialed in at the plate. She took the second pitch she saw in the bottom of the second and drilled it out to left field, then took three pitches before walking it off three innings later.
Candler batted .714 with 11 RBIs and four home runs in sectionals (wins over Warren Central, Franklin Central and New Palestine).
“She’ll complain, probably, that she’s batting seventh and ask when she’s going to move up in the lineup, but that ain’t going to happen,” coach David Lauck joked. “I’m just so happy for her… For a senior to come into the spotlight and have huge games in the sectional — that’s really what it’s all about.”
Keagan Rothrock was excellent both in the circle and at the plate.
She limited the Dragons to just one hit and struck out 10 of the 16 batters she faced.
New Palestine scored five runs off the Florida-bound junior when the teams met at the end of April and was making contact against her again Wednesday night. But everything that was put in play — aside from Katie Hirschy’s third-inning single — was swiftly cleaned up by the Roncalli defense, which has now gone error-free in 21 contests, according to MaxPreps.
“The last time we played them, I definitely was not on my A-game,” Rothrock said. “There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t working and a lot they hadn’t seen the best of yet, so I just focused on the mechanics and how pitches move.”
Rothrock made an immediate impact at the plate, too.
Abbey Hofmann worked back from an 0-2 count to draw a nine-pitch walk with two outs in the first. Two pitches later, Rothrock deposited Alexa Holman’s 1-0 offering over the left-field wall.
“I had actually looked at our assistant coach, Rick, and I said, ‘She’s throwing it right where I like it and I feel a hit,'” Rothrock said. “Then I hit it.”
“So much for the breaks I was thinking about. If we get the strike three call there (against Hofmann), we’re out of the inning,” New Palestine coach Ed Marcum lamented. “That kind of set the tone, it felt like, but they’re really good. There’s a reason they’re No. 1 in the nation and undefeated.”
Though ultimately undone by a trio of third-inning errors that resulted in five Roncalli runs, the Dragons maintained energy and confidence at the plate throughout the contest, cheering each other on and picking each other up between innings.
That high-energy and positivity was a staple of this year’s group, Marcum said — as illustrated by the night’s theme: fun hats.
“Tonight doesn’t take away from how I feel about my team,” he said. “These are outstanding young ladies and this year has been an absolute blast. They’re just fun to be around and that’s what I’m going to miss most about this group and the seniors. They’re outstanding young ladies who are going to do great things in life.”
New Palestine finishes the season 23-4-1. Roncalli will face Avon in regionals Tuesday night.
Follow IndyStar high school sports Insider Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: IHSAA softball: Roncalli, nation’s No. 1 team wins another sectional