April 23, 2014

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High school baseball: Keystone’s third straight trip to regionals sparks high expectations

When most people think of Keystone spring sports, the softball team is the first one that comes to mind.

Countless regional and state tournament berths, along with several state championships, have given the Wildcats softball team a legacy that has stood the test of time.

Now their counterparts on the baseball diamond are building a legacy of their own.

Today at 2 p.m., the Keystone baseball team will make its third straight appearance in the Division III regional at Massillon Washington High School. And for the third straight year, the Wildcats (23-7) will meet the 22-2 Youngstown Ursuline Fighting Irish in the semifinals.

“With softball, Jim Piazza’s done a heck of a job over there and they deserve all the accolades they’ve received,” junior pitcher-outfielder Kendle Stiner said. “But (former) coach (Mark) Clement, (first-year coach) Bert (Fitzgerald) and all of his assistants have helped us make a name for ourselves over here now.

“We’ve just got to keep on going from here. With our six juniors, we expect to get better and better every year. I think that anything less than Massillon is now considered a disappointment to us.”

Two seasons ago, Keystone defeated Ursuline 5-1 before losing in the regional championship. Last year, it was Ursuline that outlasted the Wildcats, 3-2, in nine innings.

So today is a rubber match of sorts.

Stiner and senior outfielder Camron Schumann have been with the program for all three regional appearances. They believe trips to Massillon are now the standard for Keystone and are carrying themselves with more confidence and ease than they did three seasons ago.

“I think you’re going to see us play a little more looser,” Schumann said. “We’re a little bit more used to the hype. We’re not going to be as nervous. We have a lot of juniors and sophomores, but a lot of them were exposed to this environment last year so they know what to expect, and I believe, as a whole, we’re going to be more relaxed this year.”

Schumann is one of only two seniors on the roster, along with backup third baseman Bradley Conrad, and is the only regular senior starter. It’s not often a team can rely solely on underclassmen to make a deep postseason run, but Schumann believes this is a special group that can.

“I’d say most of the starters are leaders on this team,” he said. “When you’re coming into a new team, you might not know the teammates as well or how they react. But we’ve never had that. We all know each other well. We can all calm each other down. Team chemistry, that’s a big thing.”

Stiner said the juniors and sophomores have practically grown up together on the baseball diamond.

“We have so much chemistry with our junior class,” Stiner said. “We all know each other since we’ve been 5 years old. We all played summer ball with each other. Only Marcus Gunter and Tyler Gullett played on a different summer team, but we also played three or four years with them.

“We all have great chemistry with each other, and I think that’s shown in our successes this year and the last two seasons. That’s good for us to have and I think it sets up a bright future for us.”

If anyone is considered a newcomer to the team, it’s Gullett, a junior third baseman-pitcher who transferred back to his home district after spending the last two years at St. Edward. However, Gullett has fit right in, even emerging as one of the best players in this area, batting .464 with 14 home runs, 64 RBIs and 24 stolen bases.

“With Tyler coming back, when we heard that, we set our goal high this year,” Stiner said. “Tyler’s a ballplayer. He wants to get out there and get it done just like everyone else out there.

“Especially since we don’t have Sit (Brandyn Sittinger) or Caleb (Schillace) like we did the last two years, we needed some guys to step up and be those guys you can rely on each and every game, and me, Tyler and Marcus have really been the guys who have this year.”

Stiner believes the team’s three-year run to the regionals can be the catalyst for something great, not just for this year’s group but also for the future.

“We’ve got our goals set high, which is getting beyond Massillon and winning a state title,” Stiner said. “That’s the one thing we’re looking for this year and next year, but we’ve got to get it done (today). We’ve got to get it done in the offseason. We’ve got to get it done in practice. We’ve got to keep that chemistry built up and continue to be on the same page with the coaching. That’s how we have to do it and continue to do it after we leave.”

Today

  • WHAT: Division III regional baseball semifinal
  • TIME: 2 p.m.
  • WHO: Keystone (23-7) vs. Youngstown Ursuline (22-2)
  • WHERE: Washington High School, Massillon
  • RADIO: WEOL 930-AM

Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or dangilles73@gmail.com.