Keystone faces Canonsburg today at 5 p.m. in winners’ bracket final
LOCK HAVEN — Keystone’s explosive offense was its identity entering the summer, but its stellar defense has lifted them to back-to-back wins in the state playoffs.
In the state opener, Keystone squeaked by with a 1-0 victory over Lehigh in a rain-condensed game. Then against Kennett Square, Brady Myers’ fifth-inning score was the difference in a 2-1 win.
Keystone’s game-clinching runs in both outings were scored off fielding errors. While its opponents have crumbled under pressure, and failed to defend the bunt, Keystone hasn’t.
“I think it’s the experience that the kids have,” Keystone manager Pat Johnson said on his team’s relaxed demeanor in crunch moments. “We focus a lot on the fundamentals of bunting and bunt defense. Every time it’s been a bunt situation for the other team, we’ve been ready for it, which may play into why other teams haven’t tried [bunting on us].”
Keystone knows it needs its slugging to reappear tonight against Canonsburg (C-Side) in the winners’ bracket final. But even with Keystone’s dip in offensive production, they’re still undefeated.
“So far we’ve been successful without hitting,” Johnson said. “Certainly life would be a lot easier if we started hitting the baseball better. But we have faced some really good pitchers with two high-level left-handers in the first game. And the [pitcher] from Kennett Square had a really nice curveball that he could throw in any spot of the count.”
Keystone’s 1.5 runs-per-game in the state tournament pales in comparison with C-Side’s 11 runs-a-game. C-Side recorded a 12-2 win against Back Mountain in the tournament’s opening round. In its next game C-Side erased an 8-3 deficit in the bottom of the sixth against Clarion and escaped the game with a 10-8 win.
“We know C-side can really hit,” Johnson said.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
Keystone’s No. 1 defense faces C-Side’s potent-scoring offense devoid of its top two pitchers. Pitch-count rules mandate rest days for Braylen Corter and Levi Schlesinger, meaning Keystone will rely on the arms of Gabe Johnson and Brady Myers.
“We know we’re going to need a great game out of them,” Johnson said. “They’re going to have to hit their spots and throw the breaking ball with confidence for us to win.
“I said in the beginning we’re a team built around our pitching and defense. We have three guys, maybe even five guys, that we know that if they’re having a good day, they can dominate a game.”
Gabe Johnson will likely get the start, allowing Brady Myers to shine in Keystone’s relief spot — a role other Keystone players have been successful in. Levi Schlesinger struggled early against Montoursville in districts before Gabe Johnson came in and settled down the game. And against Kennett Square, Johnson was pulled in the second inning and replaced by Schlesinger who threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings.
“It seems as though for some reason that the second guy in seems to have extra motivation to help his buddy out,” Johnson said. “They really pitch well when they’re in during those circumstances, which is a great thing.”
SHELTER FROM THE STORM
Inclement weather forced Keystone’s Wednesday practice indoors at a church in downtown Lock Haven. Early July’s scorching heat has since transformed into heavy rains.
Keystone’s Monday night contest was suspended until Tuesday afternoon to combat flash flood warnings. On Tuesday, severe thunderstorms delayed the scheduled afternoon contest to a 9:15 p.m. start.
“This weather has been the most crazy environment I think we’ve ever played in,” Johnson said.
During the down time Monday-Tuesday, the coaching staff encouraged the players to relax, which can be a struggle for the preteens — some who were staying in hotels in the Berwick area.
“It’s hard when you can’t swim and you can’t really do anything too physical before a game,” Johnson said. “So they’re just being restless, which I do think affects them a little bit. “
KEYSTONE WILL WIN IF
“We keep pitching the way we have,” Johnson said.