Alex Muller/For The Express. Two Keystone players shake hands as they pass each other in between at-bats.

Nearly a week after winning the first East Regional title in junior division of Little League Baseball for the state of Pennsylvania, the team from Keystone Little League got its Junior League World Series journey underway on Monday at Heritage Park in Taylor, Michigan.

After receiving a bye, Keystone was pitted against the Central Region representatives, Wisconsin-based Whitefish Bay.

A hot start offensively allowed the locals to set the tone early en route to a 13-1 victory over Wisconsin.

“It’s really great to see (that kind of start),” Keystone manager Steve Shade said after the victory. “That is really great for the kids to come out here, in this atmosphere with all these people, and still know it is just a baseball game.

“It’s very big for us to come out and have a game like this to build our confidence.”

Keystone was off and running in the top of the first inning. Two leadoff walks were erased by a double play but two-out hits from Watt Probst, Aiden Jones, and Hayes Miller put Keystone up 3-0 early on Whitefish Bay.

That early lead doubled up to a six-run cushion in the top of the second with Probst dropping in a two-out single followed a bases-loaded walk to Jones two batters later.

The bottom of the third was arguably the difference in the game. After tossing two scoreless for Keystone, the starter Jones issued back-to-back walks to Wisconsin batsmen to begin the third.

Jones was replacd by Darius Shade, who after a bunt single to the first batter he faced issued his own free pass with the bases loaded. That allowed Charlie McIntyre to score, putting Wisconsin on the board for what would be their only run of the game.

But Shade settled in and forced three straight fly-ball outs to get out of the jam.

“That is always big when you can get out of a situation like that and only give up one run,” Shade said. “Darius came in and really settled things down, that is why I brought him in to get some work in.

“We played really good defense today, turning a couple double plays,” Shade added. “We ran the bases well, we played all facets of the game very good here today.”

Perhaps building off that momentum of escaping further damage in the half inning prior, Keystone poured in three more runs in the top of the fourth. That rally was highlighted by a two-out, two-run home run off the bat of Jones to make it 9-1. Cross had a sacrifice fly in the at-bat prior.

“We had good approaches at the plate,” Shade said. “From 1 through 13, there were good approaches all game long. My middle guys, I tell them to wait for their pitch and square it up and that’s what we do.”

East made it an even more lopsided victory with four runs in the top of the sixth. Probst came through again with an RBI knock while Jones, Austin Andrus, and Josh Ludlow all scored on Wisconsin fielding errors, on a ball off the bat of Austin Frank.

Keystone is the seventh team from the state of Pennsylvania to appear at the Junior League World Series, the first since 2017 when Kennett Square went 3-1 in the event, good for a runner-up finish.

With Keystone’s victory today, Pennsylvania is now 12-11 all-time in the JLWS.

Up next for Steve Shade’s bunch is a Wednesday night tilt (8p) against the winner of Monday night’s matchup between Corpus Christi, Texas (Southwest Region) and Honolulu, Hawaii (West Region).

A win on Wednesday would put Keystone in the championship game on the United States portion of the bracket. Shade faced no shortage of adversity on their way to Heritage Park, beginning with a run through the consolation bracket en route to a fourth state title for this particular group of players.

They then went unblemished in the East Regional, outscoring the opposition 34-16 in four games.

Shade knows there is a long way to go still for his team to be the first Pennsylvania squad to win a JLWS title. But after a convincing opening victory start to finish and their track record of being resilient, the skipper is feeling optimistic.

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