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Little League All Stars Win State Title

They fell just short of the ultimate goal – a spot in the Little League World Series.

But the Keystone Little League All-Star baseball team captured something unexpected this summer.

They won everyone’s heart.

With two players from Westchase and the rest from surrounding communities, the Keystone Major All-Stars (age 12) blazed an impressive trail while winning titles at the District, Sectional and State levels. They reached the Southeastern Regionals in Warner Robins, Ga., where they were eliminated 5-2 against Virginia in the semifinals, two victories short of the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.

It became an international showcase for Keystone and its players because the Southeastern Regionals were televised by ESPN, the sports network that goes to 94-million American homes and more than 200 countries. There were Keystone watch parties. There were random sightings all over the country as distant family and friends excitedly texted back and forth during games, proving a Keystone rooting section that spanned from coast to coast.

Keystone players were interviewed by the ESPN crew and asked to provide their nicknames, favorite foods, favorite baseball players and most memorable Little League moments, which helped to personalize them during the telecasts.

There were unforgettable moments galore. Center fielder Tyler Corish, a resident of The Greens, got prime air time when he blasted a home run off South Carolina pitcher Alex Edmondson, the most valuable player on the eventual championship team. Left fielder Joey Johnston, a resident of The Shires, collected a go-ahead hit in Keystone’s second game, a dramatic come-from-behind win against Virginia.

Two victories short of Williamsport, though, Keystone’s magical run came to a halt. It was thwarted by an inability to hit in the clutch. Keystone also suffered two key injuries to players just before the State Tournament, forcing them to compete with an 11-man roster. Keystone went to Tallahassee and swept through four games at the State Tournament, defeating Coral Springs American 3-2 on Ezra Brennan’s seventh-inning walk-off homer.

That clinched a spot in Warner Robins, where Keystone competed at the glistening Little League Southeast Park, a replica of Williamsport with 225-foot fences and a sloping berm overlooking the outfield. Keystone opened with a 5-1 victory against Alabama, then defeated Virginia 8-4, scoring four runs in the sixth inning to clinch it.

Two victories from Williamsport, Keystone squandered a score of opportunities in losing against South Carolina 5-4. That put Keystone in a must-win situation to stay alive, but it was defeated by Virginia 5-2 in the semifinals.
Still, Keystone journeyed to places where few youth baseball teams have ever visited. It was trying to become the ninth team in Tampa history to reach the Little League World Series – an accomplishment that would have immortalized the players – but its three-summer run was unforgettable enough.

“This is an amazing group of young players,’’ Keystone manager Jay Jackson said. “Not just this summer, but in the last three summers, they have really helped to put Keystone Little League on the map.’’

In three summers of play, Keystone captured three consecutive State Championships (along with three titles in District and Sectional play), one Southeastern Regional title, one runner-up and one third-place finish. Along the way, it had a 34-game winning streak – an all-time record among Tampa’s Little League programs – and received a commendation from the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners in 2013.

“It was quite a memorable summer,’’ said Keystone Little League president Linda Weisman, a resident of The Fords. “We have a very active, vibrant league and I think it’s reflective of the community.

“We have a lot of boys and girls participating at all levels. We want to provide opportunities for all of them and their parents to have fun, learn how to be part of a team and become the best baseball and softball players they can be. We had a very high-profile summer and we hope that will inspire lots of kids to get involved and be part of our league. We have a lot of pride in what our league has been able to accomplish.’’

Keystone’s Major Softball All-Stars (age 12), which won District, Sectional, State and Southeastern Regional championships in 2013, again reached the State championship game, where it fell to longtime nemesis Windermere.

Additionally, Keystone’s 10-11 Softball All-Stars were the State runners-up. Keystone’s 9-10 Baseball All-Stars were the Sectional runners-up.

Members of Keystone’s Major Baseball All-Stars were Ezra Brennan, Jake Caswell, Bobby Christy, Tyler Corish, Austin Grause, Keaton Howard, Chase Jackson, Joey Johnston, Dominic Lafalce, Ryan Lowder, Justin Noah, Brett Schoessler and Carson Streicher. The manager was Jay Jackson and the coaches were Matt Caswell, Rob Christy and Bob Noah.

Members of Keystone’s Major Softball All-Stars were Allison Adamy, Kathryn Benninghoff, Stephanie Brennan, Hannah Bynum, Quincy Combs, Julia Diecidue, Elena Dybiec, Madeline Keyes, Paige Lassiter, Sydney Martin, Jade Rayburn, Alyssa Rosenwasser, Stephanie Sandborn and Kylee Weathers. The manager was Tom Brennan. The coaches were Anthony Diecidue and Rick Adamy.

Members of Keystone’s 10-11 Softball All-Stars were Kendall Duncan, Krista Bump, Ashling Sturgis, Elena Esposito, Maureen O’Shea, Ashley Shroll, Jaelyn Lockhart, Juliette Villeme, Rachel Waldheim, Annalise Santiago, Kaitlyn Crivello and Ashley Epperson. The manager was Brett Shroll and the coach was Mike O’Shea.

Members of Keystone’s 9-10 Baseball All-Stars were Keeton Burroughs, Carter Christy, Dillon Costello, Ryan Crivello, Chris Cuccia, Ben Drumheller, Luke Fikar, Haydon Focke, Trey Freeman, Ty Lively, Charlie Pals, Zane Pestalozzi, Frankie Taylor and Clay Thompson. The manager was Steve Crivello. The coaches were Tim Burroughs and Al Drumheller.

By Joey Johnston

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