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Conococheague bands together to face Mid-Atlantic unknown

August 03, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com
  • The Conococheague Little League 11-12 All-Stars will begin play Friday in the Mid-Atlantic Region tournament in Bristol, Conn. Front row, from left to right: Jerry Moschel, Hunter Ostrum, Darian Bryan, Jake Arnone, Caden Keplinger, Justin Beckley and Robert Carr. Back row: Manager Pat Taylor, Levi Taylor, Gage Kyler, coach Dave Kyler, Isaac Schlotterbeck, coach Chris Schlotterbeck and Trevor Knode.
Submitted photo

WILLIAMSPORT — The Conococheague 11-12 All-Stars have become Williamsport’s version of “Our Gang.”

They have transformed themselves from highly confident District 1 champs into an efficient team that won the Maryland Little League championship and the right to represent the state in the Mid-Atlantic Region tournament.

Along the way, Conococheague has learned lessons and given lessons while becoming a lovable fan favorite.

“We have been coaching teams for a lot of years now,” said Conococheague manager Pat Taylor about his coaching staff. “There is always something you remember about each team you have, but there is something special about this group. They are good kids. They are kids that you want to come to your house to hang out.

“We have a lot of kids who may not be the best ballplayers, but they are all good kids. They are the kind of kids that you only want to have good things happen to them.”

One of the best things starts Friday when Conococheague faces New York in its opening game of the region tournament in Bristol, Conn. It is the start of something that could become even better.

“I’m really excited,” said Conococheague infielder/pitcher Gage Kyler. “I’m ready to go and try something new.”

The Mid-Atlantic Region will be something that these Conococheague players have never experienced before.

First, it will be playing four pool play games in five days. The teams with the four best records in the six-team pool will advance to the semifinals on Aug. 12, with those winners heading into the championship game on Aug. 14. That winner will represent the Mid-Atlantic region in the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa.

In the process, Conococheague will not only face its toughest competition to date, but a change of lifestyle.

“We had some guys from our 2009 team (which played in the regional) come in and talk about what to expect. They told them about living in the dorms, the showers and about being apart from their parents. Those were all surprises for them.”

Taylor also had Bill Abeles, who managed Federal Little League in its 2008 World Series appearance, speak to the team.

“The point is they know how to play. They know how to do all the drills,” Taylor said. “We want them to be mentally prepared. We don’t want to freak them out, but now a bobbled ball will probably be a base hit. We will have to keep the ball in front of us and make all the throws. They are all going to be better. We will be facing the best from every state.”

Conococheague picked up some of the urgency after losing its opener in the double-elimination state tournament. It found the polish and teamwork needed to pull off five straight wins.

“It was a good experience,” Kyler said. “There was a lot more competition at states. It was fun being in games that went back and forth. I just know it will be a lot more competitive than before.”

Conococheague enters the tournament with a clean slate, allowing Levi Taylor and Isaac Schlotterbeck to be the probable pitchers for the first two games. Pat Taylor has used a “pitching by committee” approach in other games while trying to save the staff.

Mental preparation aside, Taylor has an agenda for Conococheague. Winning ranks high on the list, but it isn’t necessarily on top.

“First, I want them to have fun,” he said. “I want them to get there and soak in the experience. It is so rare and you can’t say you will have another chance to do this. If we do the things we have been — like taking bad pitches and taking bad hops in the chest — we have as good a shot as anyone to win it.”

That would turn this reality into a dream.

“I’m thinking this is going to be tough,” said leadoff hitter Caden Keplinger. “In my mind, I think this will be impossible. We are only one step from the World Series, but it’s still impossible. If we do what we have been doing though, we have a chance to be the best team in the region. If we get through pool play, then it will all become very possible.”

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