August 27, 2014

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Celebrating success: Party, parade honor Keystone’s state championship softball teams

LAGRANGE — Poland Seminary and Greenville couldn’t do it and neither could 30 other Keystone softball opponents this season.

Mother Nature did it Friday night when she rained on the Wildcats’ parade. But like the softball opposition’s, her efforts also failed.

Rain, thunder and lightning couldn’t discourage a crowd of perhaps 400 from attending the parade that moved from Keystone Middle School through town to the LaGrange Lions Park.

There, they attended a huge community picnic with food for everyone that filled the park’s two pavilions. It was a slice of Americana reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Most wore something purple — a Keystone shirt or cap — and there were scores of purple balloons to honor the school’s state championship softball teams of 2012, 2006 and 1999.

Preceded by a LaGrange police cruiser, members of the marching band and flag squad, players from each of the teams were taken along the parade route in two hay wagons, decorated purple and white, and a pickup truck. They were followed by a fire truck, the rescue squad’s emergency vehicle and another police cruiser.

The three Division II championship trophies were on display at the picnic.

Among those on hand were current coach Jim Piazza, whose teams won this year’s and the 2006 titles; former coach Dave Leffew, whose 1999 team won the school’s first crown; and his wife, Suzanne, who was Keystone’s first fastpitch softball coach.

“This is about everybody,” Piazza said. “We’re not doing this for ourselves. We’re doing it for everybody because of the strong support we have from the community. It just seems like everybody supports the program so well. It’s also for the past state champions who set the standard for this year’s team.

“They set standards that we had to surpass,” he said. “For us to leave our mark, everyone who put on a Keystone uniform had to work hard and contribute to keep the tradition going. Also, our future kids can see if you work hard and commit, you can succeed. One of the things I’ve learned is success is a choice. You can choose to be successful and these girls chose to be successful.”

Dave Leffew, who’s now the pitching coach at Ashland University, called the school’s three state championships “awesome.”

“To be down there (in the Final Four) 13 times is just about as good,” he said. “That’s hard to do. People might think it’s easy, but it’s pretty darn hard to get there. I was just so impressed with this year’s team.”

Virtually the entire 2012 team attended. Several were there from the 2006 squad, including shortstop Kara Dill, currently Kentucky’s star shortstop, and third baseman Megan Coyne, who went on to play at Baldwin-Wallace. Amie Leffew — Dave and Suzanne’s daughter, who went undefeated in pitching Keystone to the 1999 title — was there, along with her catcher, Megan Rodak.

Talk at the picnic focused on the Wildcats’ 32-0 record and its selection in two national polls as the No. 1 high school team in the country.

In a seemingly endless flow of honors, pitcher Kenzie Conrad was selected Lorain County Miss Softball and national high school player of the year by MaxPreps, an online affiliate of CBS Sports. And shortstop Erin Pond was named the Lorain County Softball Coaches Association’s Player of the Year.

Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or softball@bobdaniels.info.