SWEET TRADITION: For Keystone 10-12 All-Stars alumni, summer memories last a lifetime

Some members of the 2011 Keystone All-Stars, who placed third in the world in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, were surprise visitors Thursday night at the open practice of the 2018 Keystone All-Stars who left for the Mid-Atlantic Regionals Friday afternoon. The team was in the middle of practice when 2011 coaches Bill Garbrick, center left, and Chip Miller, not shown in this photo, walked onto the field with Landon Breon, a player on the 2011 team, shown standing beside Garbrick in the Pittsburgh Pirates shirt. The coaches smiled, laughed and talked. Perhaps the alums were passing on some advice or strategy. They certainly offered congratulations for the state title and good luck in the regionals, hoping this team, too, would play on Little League’s biggest stage in South Williamsport. (The Express/Sarah Paez)

MILL HALL — Keystone’s historic journey to Williamsport occurred seven years ago, but even today the vivid memories of that improbable run still resonate in the minds of those athletes.

Landon Breon treasured the moment the team exited the tunnel and entered the field to begin its first round matchup against North Oldham, Kentucky. Keystone was greeted by a record-setting 42 thousand fans who packed Howard J. Lamade Stadium.

“Just hearing the crowd erupt and realizing we finally made it there was special,” Breon said. “Those memories I’ll never forget and it was the best time of my life.”

Breon was among the 11 athletes who jump-started Keystone’s rich tradition in Clinton County. As a pitcher and left fielder, he helped Keystone accumulate a district, state and regional championship, along with a 21-3 record in 2011. Their summer ended with 2-0 loss to Huntington Beach, California in the United States semifinal, but their achievements on the field merged into their personal lives.

Breon, a sophomore, studies Business Management at James Madison University. He was 12-years old during the 2011 run, and acknowledged his baseball accomplishments that summer created the foundation for success in his adult life.

“It definitely set me up for who I am today,” Breon said. “Without making it as far as we did, I think I live a completely different life than I am now. It just set me up for success as a person, as a baseball player and just who I am now.”

Bill Garbrick managed the 2011 Keystone team. His brightest memory is their win against West Point in the state championship. State College hosted the tournament, and the game’s proximity provided easy access for fans to witness Keystone triumph its preseason ambition.

“We went into the season wanting the state championship, that was our primary goal,” Garbrick explained. “We got that win, it was a big deal. There’s certainly a sense of pride, and there will always be that fact that we were the first ones to win.”

It was Keystone’s first state championship in the Majors division. They returned to a parade in downtown Lock Haven. Soon, they departed for Bristol, Connecticut where the athletes were housed in dorms and parents converged in separate hotels.

During their extended stays in Bristol and Williamsport, the team gelled off the field. A sense of camaraderie was built and life-long friendships were forged.

Toward the end of their run, Scott Fravel, Keystone’s current assistant coach, became emerged with the team.

“I was there cage guy,” Fravel said.

Fravel volunteered, threw batting practice for the team and aided them with cage work after they won states. He anxiously traveled to Bristol when the Mid-Atlantic Regionals approached for Keystone’s first round matchup, an 8-4 victory against Paramus, New Jersey.

“My wife and I went up there to watch the first game in Bristol, and we turned right back around after the game, came home, got our kids and went back up and spent the week there,” Fravel said. “So Garnder (his son and current Keystone catcher) was there for their whole run. He was about six. He watched every game and it kind of lit the fire for him for the game of baseball.”

Keystone’s Little League World Series dream was cut short in the United States semifinals, but manager Bill Garbrick remained cordial with his players.

Garbrick followed their baseball careers through high school and at the collegiate level. His son, Alex Garbrick, pitches at Morehead State, Cole Reeder pitches at Mount St. Mary’s University and Brandon Miller is an outfielder for LHU.

“I followed that team all through high school,” Garbrick said. “I’m still in touch with them and their parents, so I know how they’re doing. I still see and talk to them a lot.”

Garbrick, as well as Landon Breon, attended Keystone’s open workout on Thursday, its final practice in Clinton County before departing for Connecticut. They soaked in the community’s enormous support in 2011, and wanted to return the love to the 2018 team.

“I just remember what it was like getting all the support from the community when I played, so it’s just nice to be able to give it back,” Breon said.

Garbrick attended at least one Keystone game since the summer of 2011, and strongly endorsed this year’s squad. He said like with 2011, this undefeated team is built around dynamic pitching and stingy defense.

“They’re pretty balanced,” Garbrick said of Keystone. “They have a lot of really good skill and a lot of natural ability. The team’s well rounded.”

He’s impressed most by the team’s professionalism. They’ve remained grounded, eliminated distractions and continue to win baseball games, reminiscent of Garbrick’s squad.

“We were very strict about the kids being humble about it and being appreciative to the fans, for them to appreciate where they were at and to appreciate how the people out there felt toward them,” he explained. “I see a lot of the same stuff today. I think it’s trickled down very well.”