KEYSER - In a way, Craig Rotruck is headed back to where it all got started.
By Chapin Jewell
KEYSER - In a way, Craig Rotruck is headed back to where it all got started.
Following the retirement of coach Jim Walton, Rotruck, most recently the head coach of Keyser High School’s softball program, has been named head softball coach at Potomac State College. It will actually be Rotruck’s second stint as a head coach at Potomac State, the first time around, however, was with baseball, where he compiled an overall record of 113-26 and won a national championship.
“When I graduated college, I started coaching baseball at Potomac State with Doug Little; we were both assistant coaches under Jack Reynolds. In 1993, we finished number two in the country, runners-up. In 1994, we also went to the World Series, and when Doug (Little) accepted a job as an assistant coach at WVU in the winter of 1994, that’s when I was fortunate enough to become head coach at Potomac State,” Rotruck recalls.
After taking over in 1995, Rotruck immediately led Potomac State back to the World Series; this time the Catamounts won the national championship.
Rotruck is hoping to someday win another national title at Potomac State, this time in softball.
“There’s a lot of good talent here, and I’m just hoping that I can bring a lot of recognition to them, and let them see that this could be them on a national level, going to a World Series and possibly winning one. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be able to do that, there’s nothing like it,” Rotruck explains.
After his first go-round as a college coach, Rotruck coached as an assistant baseball coach at Keyser High School, where his sons played baseball. Over time, and with his daughter playing softball, Rotruck switched sports.
“When my daughter became a sophomore in high school, I was fortunate enough to apply for and get the head softball coach position at Keyser High School in 2016. I did 2016-2019, four years,” Rotruck stated.
Rotruck explained the supportive nature of the folks surrounding Keyser High School’s softball program, from the day he started throughout his final season this year, “When I took over the job at Keyser High School, on day one I had people coming to me telling me they wanted to be involved. A lot of those people, their kids weren’t even involved with the program. They just wanted to be involved.”
According to Rotruck, “Of course the Anderson family and the Mathias family have a big role in that. A lot of families saw the things we did on the field, the uniforms, the Myrtle Beach trips, we have a lot of big sponsors like Health Matters, and people just wanted to be involved. The whole community, parents, from the moment we took over, anything you ask for, the people are there for you. You ask the girls to sell raffle tickets, every girl would sell their amount plus.”
In addition to a supportive softball community, Rotruck is quick to give praise to his assistant coaches at KHS, Chris Shoemaker, Richie Thompson and Colton Jones. “We all coached together for four years, what a huge help and support they are to the program.”
While Rotruck certainly has a strong foundation and stellar playing and coaching career when it comes to baseball, he’s certainly developed a passion for softball. According to Rotruck, there are similarities and differences between the two sports. “What I enjoy about softball, the girls show up, they come to play, they really do a good job; they try hard, they hustle, they’re easily motivated. The difference is the pitching; the whole thing is about pitching. A lot of the hitting, base running, fielding ground balls, defensive plays, are exactly like baseball. In fact, some of the plays that we have in softball I brought from when I was coaching college baseball.”
Just as there are differences between baseball and softball, Rotruck details the difference between softball in high school and at the collegiate level, “The difference between high school and college is the speed of the game. The pitcher throws the ball a lot harder, they move the ball around a lot different, base running is a lot different. As an example, in high school, you can move from second to third on a ground ball. In college, you’re probably not going to get from second to third on a routine ground ball.”
There’s a big difference in the amount of time and level of commitment required from softball players at the collegiate level as well. While Rotruck required and surely received maximum commitment from his players at Keyser, by its nature, softball, or any sport really at the collegiate level, is a different animal. According to Rotruck, “When you come to college you have to want to play, because we practice a lot more, there’s a lot of offseason conditioning, and we travel a lot more. The overall speed and athleticism of the girl is a lot different from the high school level.”
Rotruck’s plan at Potomac State is to continue with the successful model employed by Coach Jim Walton, in terms of gathering a roster mixed with out of area recruits and local talent as well.
“I’m hoping the role of the local kids will continue to be very huge; I’m going to try to do some camps and do some hands-on things, trying to get them to come and watch us play. That will let them see what they need to do to play there and at the next level. There’s a great deal of talent in the local area that Coach Walton has drawn from, and I want to continue to do that.”
Rotruck acknowledges that he is walking into a good situation at Potomac State, “Well that’s where I started, so I’m kind of going back home to there. I’m still familiar with how things work there; there’s still a lot of people there in administration and on staff that were there when I was there. There’s also a lot of new faces in there that are really on the same page as me, trying to improve the facilities, and trying to keep a winning tradition there. I’m walking into a program that’s gone to the World Series four out of the last five years.”
Walking into a winning program, while nice, also means that expectations are high, even from day one. Rotruck acknowledges this, “So I have to really get myself together, along with the coaching staff that we’re trying to put together, to try to continue that success. Coach Walton’s done a wonderful job.”
Like at Keyser, Rotruck will solicit, and be receptive to community support for the program at Potomac State, in any manner it comes. As he acknowledges, however, the collegiate set-up is very different to that of high school.
“In college, it’s different because you don’t have a lot of kids living here with their families, so you have to rely on businesses as much as you do families. But, the support at Potomac State has been very big as well.”
In any event, Craig Rotruck is excited about the challenges that lie ahead. “I just think that right now, Potomac State’s a good spot for me; I can go out and recruit players in and try to work them extremely hard and try to keep them winning. At the high school level, you cannot do the recruiting, and girls go and play other sports, so you only get them for a short period of time.”
As a player, as a baseball coach, softball coach, high school coach and college coach, Craig Rotruck has a proven track record of success.
As a baseball player, Rotruck is a member of the Frostburg State University Hall of Fame. As a baseball coach, Rotruck is already a member of the Potomac State College Hall of Fame. In addition, he’s leaves behind him a legacy of good work with the Keyser High School softball program.
Who says you can’t go back home again? Craig Rotruck is doing just that at Potomac State. If past record is indicative of future success, you’ll want to keep your eye on Potomac State’s softball program, once again, it’s in good hands.