Keystone ready to push for title

SARAH SMELTZ/THE EXPRESS Keystone coaches are, from left, Jason Foltz, Patrick Johnson and Scott Fravel.

BEECH CREEK — Keystone’s a scary team when they’re firing on all cylinders.

The All-Stars conquered a tough District 12 before blitzing through sectionals with ease, including a 12-0 beatdown against Pottsville in the title game.

But with stiffer competition approaching in the upcoming state playoffs, Keystone knows its previous outings on the diamond may not transition to success come Sunday. To win, they need to play error-free baseball, and they’re more focused than ever on doing so.

Keystone opens the 8-team state tournament with a first round match up against Section 6 winner Lehigh. The game will end a four-day hiatus for Keystone, who’s just eager to return to the field.

“I think we’re ready to get going,” Keystone coach Pat Johnson said. “These guys are used to playing a lot of baseball , so having to sit around and wait is probably the hardest part for them.

“We’re excited to get to Berwick. We know our opponent is Lehigh now, we played them last year [in the 10-year-old division].”

Lehigh’s an improved team this year. They’re 8-1 and bulldozed through sectionals without surrendering a single run. Keystone has its work cut out for them, but the team embraces all challenges.

“Regardless, we’re just ready to get out and play,” Johnson explained. “We know when we get to this level there’s going to be seven great teams there, eight if you count us, and there’s going to be no easy game. We’re going to have to dig in and play every game. It’s going to be a tough game, and it’s going to come down to not making mistakes and capitalizing on our opportunities.”

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR

Braylen Corter’s been terrorizing pitchers while at the plate — but on Sunday he may have the opportunity to do the reverse on the mound.

Coach Pat Johnson anticipates Corter could make his postseason pitching debut against Lehigh. Corter’s presence adds depth to the rotation, allowing Keystone to combat Little League pitch rules.

Current pitch-count rules dictate a mandatory one-day rest for 20-35 pitches thrown, two days’ rest for 35-50 pitches, three days’ rest for 50-65 pitches and four days’ rest for 65 pitches and over with a max of 85 pitches.

“It’s win or go home,” Johnson explained. “If Braylen feels he can go, then he’s capable of dominating a game similar to the ways Levi Schlesinger and Gabe Johnson can.”

Keystone has strong pitching, but its offense is its bread and butter. Braylen Corter has a team-high five home runs, and Levi Schlesinger and Connor Foltz are tied for second with a .429 batting average.

“Our success in Berwick is going to be dependent on how we hit the baseball,” Johnson said. “We’re going to be facing a good pitcher every night out, and we need better plate approaches from some of our hitters who we’ve relied on over the years. “

DOWN THE HIGHWAY

Keystone was afforded the luxury of hosting sectionals at Blaine W. Kunes Memorial Park in front of a sea fans.

Now with the stakes higher, that devoted fan base is expected to make the trip from Beech Creek to Berwick.

“It’s unbelievable to have the support that this league has,” Johnson said. “Everywhere we go, people comment on the Keystone baseball following. It’s a culture here.”

Johnson acknowledged the challenges of winning a state title, but he’s optimistic given his team’s talent and the coaching staff’s knowledge of the game.

“I think we’ve got the guys to do it,” he said on advancing to Bristol, Connecticut. “But we know we’re going to have to play a very clean baseball game to beat some of the teams we’re going to play in Berwick.”

KEYSTONE WILL WIN IF

“…We get good pitching performances from multiple guys, hit the baseball and play clean defense,” Johnson said.

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