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They lost that losing feeling

Conococheague's 11-12 All-Stars battled through losers' bracket for state title

August 01, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • Conococheague all-star Levi Taylor, standing, hangs out in the dugout with his teammates during practice Monday.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT — Gage Kyler called it a reminder to keep playing hard.

Caden Keplinger said it was a wake-up call.

And manager Pat Taylor labeled it as blessing.

No matter how they look at it, the Conococheague 11-12 All-Stars got something they admit they probably sorely needed on July 24 in their first game at the Maryland state tournament.

It was a loss — a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Northern Calvert. That slip set the stage for everything Conococheague has now. It fought through the losers’ bracket to win the Maryland state title for the right to represent the state in the Mid-Atlantic Regional and a shot at the Little League World Series.

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but with how the week panned out, it was a blessing,” said Taylor. “If you sat and looked at the bracket, it was win on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and we advance. It didn’t work the way it was planned, but I think we are better off for it. It was humbling.”

Conococheague was a confident bunch heading into its opener at Maugansville Little League. These All-Stars were used to winning. They had a 9-10 state title to prove it. But it didn’t happen in the opener.

Northern Calvert’s Dillon Waters served notice that the tournament wasn’t going to be a walkover for Conococheague. He fired a complete game with 12 strikeouts, mainly by throwing breaking pitches.

“Everyone went up there swinging at the first pitch,” Kyler said. “The curve was looking so good. We learned that we had to be patient and that we couldn’t make errors.”

Conococheague went in for an Extreme Makeover, Mental Edition. The bravado from past success had to be shelved for the here and now.

“We lacked discipline at the plate,” Taylor said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Waters, but if we could go back and look at that game, you would see how many pitches we swung at that were out of the strike zone.”

That’s when Conococheague saw the light. There is more talent out there than just in District 1.

“We found out that even the best teams can be beaten on a given day,” Keplinger said. “That was the day. At first, we did think it was a wake-up call. It made us work a lot harder and play together because we wanted it more.”

The safety net of the double-elimination tournament was gone. Conococheague couldn’t lose again. The coaching staff weighed the options.

“(Coach Chris Schlotterbeck) is intense,” Taylor said. “I’m middle of the road and (Coach Dave Kyler) is real laid back. It has made us a good combination. We talked about keeping our composure because we knew the kids were watching us. We wanted to stay positive and capitalize on the way we play.”

Conococheague forgot about its accomplishments and focused on the week at hand. The players became more patient at bat and the defense backed up the pitching. More importantly, they began playing together and feeding off each other.

The pinnacle came on July 26 when Conococheague came back from a four-run deficit in the bottom of the sixth to defeat South Maryland 10-9, which allowed it to advance to what became the state title three days later.

“How can they help not feeling confident after coming back like that,” Taylor said. “It’s hard not to realize that they can do anything they want to win.”

Conococheague was put to the test in the championship game, but used Levi Taylor’s grand slam to ice a 14-10 victory against Elkton.

Next on the list is a date with New York on Friday at 5 p.m. in Bristol, Conn.

And Conococheague goes in with a new understanding of how to be confident.

“The way it all turned out, it is much sweeter,” said Pat Taylor. “With what we learned, I can’t see how it can’t help them at the regional.”

Note: Conococheague will be selling Team Maryland T-shirts on Wednesday and Thursday as a fundraiser for the trip to the Mid-Atlantic Regional. The sale will begin at 6 p.m. both nights at Byron Memorial Park, with all proceeds going to pay for costs of the trip.

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