LOCK HAVEN –Those in attendance in Freehold Township, New Jersey, this past week watching the Eastern Regional championship game on Tuesday morning may have noticed something after the championship game finished. Keystone’s players, while more than excited, weren’t going crazy and dogpiling one another after the win.
There was no crazy celebration. Manager Steve Shade told his team they can go ahead and celebrate once they won, but the team wasn’t going to do that.
Not yet at least.
“Whenever the game was over, they didn’t hoot or holler. Nothing. They just lined up,” Keystone manager Steve Shade said. “I said ‘guys you can celebrate.’ They said ‘coach, we’re not done. We got to where we wanted, we expected to get here. Now, we want to win it.’”
Keystone will play in the Junior League Baseball World Series in Taylor, Michigan, which runs Aug. 14-21. Keystone won’t play until Monday morning.
A great mindset for a group of 13-year-old players to have. Keystone didn’t just expect to get to the World Series this summer, they expect to win it all. That’s the type of mindset that comes from a perennially solid program that churns out District 12 titles at all levels nearly as frequently as Marvel puts out a new series or movie.
“To win it (is our goal). My expectations are to get there and to win it. These kids are the same way,” Shade said.
Keystone’s 13-year-old all-star team has been battle-tested. Not just this year, but over the past four seasons playing since they were 9 and 10 through now. They’ve been in four state tournaments since that first year in 2018 and have been playing great competition each year. So to have the mindset they’re going in to the World Series to win isn’t anything surprising. In fact, for Shade, it gives his team a huge advantage and is plenty beneficial.
“That’s what it’s about. We preach it and I preach it forever. I’m very confident as a coach. We’re humble and a class act. I tell them in your mind, you’re the best. Out on the surface, you keep it even keel,” Shade said. “They are absolutely focused. There was no swimming this week, no horsing around. Nothing. They were straight-focused on business because they know they can do it. They are healthy and are ready to do it.”
Keystone went a perfect 4-0 at the Eastern Regional tournament with wins against Freehold Township, New Jersey (7-3), Berlin, Maryland (15-11), Canton, Massachusetts (9-0) and Berlin, Maryland again in the championship game on Tuesday morning, 3-2. The championship game was the closest contest Keystone faced in the regional tournament.
At regionals, Keystone saw its lineup produce hits nearly at will. Watt Probst had eight hits and six RBIs, Darius Shade had five hits and four runs scored, Hayes Miller collected five hits and seven RBIs, Aiden Jones had four hits with two doubles and two RBIs and Blake Walker had four hits with four runs scored. Add in Josh Ludlow, Jared Bischof, Cole Cooper and Nolan Cross — each of whom had at least two hits at regionals — and Keystone proved that it can hit anywhere in the lineup.
“We have good hitters 1 through 13. Like I said, somebody has come through that was struggling that didn’t have a good game or whatever, they’re put in that spotlight and they get a single,” Shade said. “That’s big. We have a good team here, good solid kids, they’re ready to go get it.”
Keystone’s offense has been putting up a ton of runs since the state tournament began in late July. At states, Keystone outscored its opponents, 41-26. At regionals, Keystone outscored its four opponents, 34-16. While the offense can put up runs, the pitching and defense has played well throughout this entire summer.
Pitching wise, Keystone has a ton of depth on the mound. Aiden Jones, Austin Frank, Blake Walker and Darius Shade all threw significant innings during the regional tournament, and Keystone also has Josh Ludlow, Nolan Cross and Watt Probst who saw some action in regionals and are capable of throwing strikes and picking up victories.
“Our biggest strength is that our pitching staff is deep. Each one of these kids surprise us every other day. It’s somebody new, it’s their belief in one another and stick together,” Shade said. “They’ve been together for so long. They believe in one another.”
Keystone will open the Junior League Baseball World Series against either Loudoun South Little League of South Riding, Virginia (Southeast Regional champions) or the Central Regional champions, which has not yet been determined. That game for Keystone will be played on Monday, Aug. 15, at 2 p.m.
If Keystone wins their opener, they would play again on Wednesday at 8 p.m. If Keystone loses their opener, they would play Tuesday at 2 p.m. in an elimination game.
The United States and International championship games are scheduled on Friday, Aug. 19, at 6 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively. The World Series championship game will be played Sunday, Aug. 21, at noon on ESPN2.