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Jon Gerardi on sports: Success adds to Keystone’s tradition

TIM WEIGHT/Special to the Sun-Gazette Members of Keystone’s junior baseball team practice at Mill Hall on Wednesday in preparation for the Junior League Baseball World Series, which begins Sunday in Taylor, Michigan. Keystone plays Monday.

If you were to pick out a random year since 2002 from a hat, there’s an extremely solid chance that whatever year you picked out, Keystone won a District 12 title or Section 3 title that season at a various age group.

That’s a testament to Keystone’s league routinely building talent at the younger levels and having outstanding coaches from the minor and 9-11 levels, through majors and juniors. This year, Keystone had more than a ton of success across the board. In fact, at every level.

Keystone’s minor baseball team, 9-11 baseball team, major baseball team and junior baseball team all won the District 12 championships, making it a clean Keystone sweep in baseball competition. In addition, Keystone’s major baseball team reached the state tournament, finishing as the third-best team in Pennsylvania. And the junior baseball team isn’t quite yet done making history and having success.

Keystone’s junior baseball team won the Eastern Regional tournament last week to secure a spot in the Junior League Baseball World Series in Taylor, Michigan. Keystone plays on Monday in its first game at the Series, which runs through Sunday, Aug. 21.

“That’s phenomenal (to add to Keystone’s success). These boys, this team I’m coaching, has won four state titles. We’ve been to two other regions, this is our third regional tournament. It’s phenomenal,” Keystone manager Steve Shade said. “Just to know this little town, that there’s good coaches and good kids that buy into the coaching and believe in the coaching staff (is great). The community has always been behind us, so that’s big too.”

The majority of Keystone’s players on this junior team have seen more success than most Little Leaguers do in a youth career. Since playing together at the all-star level in 2018, the bulk of this Keystone team has won four consecutive state championships and this year marks their third regional trip after playing in two Mid-Atlantic Regional Invitational tournaments at the minor and 9-11 levels.

This group won the state tournament as minor leaguers in 2018 and 9-11 all-stars in 2019. Both those years, Keystone reached a Mid-Atlantic regional invitational tournament, taking second both years. They missed out on a possible great run in 2020 at the major division due to the COVID-19 pandemic canceling Little League all-star tournaments and in 2021, they won the junior state title. Unfortunately last year, there was no regional tournament for that division due to COVID-19 pandemic limiting most tournaments to state competition.

Four straight state championships and three regional berths? Not bad for a group of kids playing a game they love and adding onto a tradition that has had incredible success since the early 2000s. That includes the major baseball program having reached the Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament in 2011 and 2016 and finishing as the third best team in the United States in 2011 at the Little League World Series in South Williamsport.

But for this junior team, there’s still a few games yet to play for Keystone, and the Mill Hall all-stars aren’t quite finished accomplishing goals and blazing their own trail and history. When the team won the Eastern Regional tournament this past week in Freehold Township, New Jersey, none of the players celebrated after the win. That’s because there’s another tournament to play yet, and another possible title to add to their accomplished resume.

Gerardi is the sports editor at the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at jgerardi@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonGerardi.

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