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One inning, one game at a time

July 23, 2009|By TIM KOELBLE

The Conococheague 11-12 All-Star team displayed a well-balanced style of baseball in winning the Maryland District 1 championship.

Plenty of hitting, good pitching and good defense. Now, it is imperative those ingredients remain intact as the next step along the Little League journey begins.

If they're not already, bags get packed today and the team heads out from Williamsport tonight for Waldorf, Md., in the state tournament at Stetham Park.

After Saturday's opening ceremonies at 9 a.m., Conococheague opens against South Maryland, a runaway champion from District 4, at 1 p.m. A win puts Conococheague against the Brunswick-Home Run Baker winner on Sunday at 3. A loss drops it into a losers' bracket game on Sunday at 6.

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This is much the same team that won the Maryland 9-10 state title two years ago, so there's plenty of camaraderie aboard.

"These kids understand there is more at stake now," said manager Mike Iseminger, who also managed the group as 9 and 10 year olds. "They're like baseball blood brothers. They go fishing, stay at each others' house. ... There's no tension."

In any double-elimination tournament, the importance is winning games from the outset.

"We just want to go out and try to win every inning," said Iseminger. "The first two games are really important."

Based on numbers, Conococheague's opening opponent poses a huge threat with the same successful numbers.

Conococheague scored 56 runs in four games and allowed 13. South Maryland outscored its opponents 63-2 in four games.

"You just don't know what the other teams are like that (South Maryland) beat," said Iseminger.

Conococheague hit 12 home runs and batted .437 as a team with a .605 on base percentage. South Maryland posted three shutouts and allowed two unearned runs on seven hits in four games.

Iseminger said the goal was to touch up on some spots that could use improvement this week in practice. The team has been idle since July 17's 12-2 win over West End in the district final.

"We've been working on getting quicker jumps to the ball in the outfield and quicker relays on throws back to the infield," he said.

"Most teams have one or two good pitchers. I think we're solid with five, six pitchers and that's a key."

Riley Arnone and Sinjin Shoop have been the tablesetters at the top of the lineup, followed by big boppers Jordan Stonebreaker, Wyatt Scriever and Jordan Buchanan, who have supplied extra wallop.

"We'd like to get some more (offense) from the bottom part of the lineup, but its not affected their defensive play," said Iseminger.

Conococheague is making its first appearance in the state tournament since its last district title in 1974.

"It's amazing it's been that long," said Arnone. "I didn't know that until I read it in the paper."

"We're just relaxin' a little and getting back into the groove," said Shoop. "We're doing all the little things right, not making errors. The 9-10 title was awesome and fun, but when I go to bed I think of what we can do at 11-12."

Arnone said the experience winning the 9-10 title was fun and hopes it carries on through. His younger brother, Jake, is with the current Conococheague 9-10 team that played in the state championship game Thursday night.

"I remember we beat Berlin 13-3 to win," he said. "We run-ruled three teams and beat Frederick American, 9-8. It was fun to win that title."

Colby Byers, whose dad Mick is the manager of the 9-10 all-star team, doesn't even stand 5-foot tall but has a manager's concept. He is also the only 11-year old on the team.

"You can never get enough hitting and we've got lots of depth," said Byers. "The biggest difference now will be harder pitching. This is an opportunity a lot of people don't get. We work well together as a team. We just have to take one inning, one game at a time and not look ahead. I think we are a better team than Federal's last year."

"It won't be easy, but I think the coaches have us well-prepared," said Arnone.

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