CRESSONA - With his team in a tight 1-1 battle against Danville, Keystone center fielder Zach Eck stepped in to the batter's box in the top of the third inning with hopes of driving home teammate A.J. Smith from third base for the go-ahead run.
What happened next was something Eck wasn't expecting, as he sent an inside fastball sailing into the trees beyond the left-field fence for a grand slam, marking his first home run of this All-Star season.
Keystone went on to top Danville, 6-1, at the Little League Major Baseball Section 3 tournament on Saturday.
"I wasn't really sure if it was gone, but once I saw it going through the air I thought I might have had it," Eck said. "It felt pretty good."
Eck's home run came at the most opportune of times according to Keystone manager Jim Corl.
"It was huge today, because our top guys that have usually been crushing the ball were a little off today," Corl said. "But the bottom of the lineup helped us out."
"Zach's home run was outstanding. He was one of the few kids that didn't have a home run, so you might as well hit a grand slam if you're going to hit it," said Corl.
Danville did provide Keystone with some of its stiffest competition up to this point.
Coming into Saturday's game Keystone was considered the favorite by many to win the Section 3 tournament, after blowing its way through the District 12 bracket, scoring in double-digits in every game. For Danville to hold Keystone to a mere six runs was an impressive feat in itself.
"Obviously they are a very good team," Danville head coach Chris Persing said. "We practiced and came in with a game plan, and our pitchers executed great. But that kid had a big hit for them.
"We left quite a few guys on base tonight, and it's one of those if you get a hit here and a hit there then you give yourself a shot in the sixth inning," Persing said. "So that's the key - getting a big hit in a crucial situation. We were a hit or two away from getting them, so we tip our hat to them."
In the bottom of the third inning Danville nearly had the crucial hit it needed, when Brandon McGaw sent a line-drive screaming out to second baseman Tanner Lavelle with the bases loaded. However, just as it seemed that ball was destined for right field, Lavelle shot his glove up into the air and snagged it for the third out before Danville could inflict any damage.
Pitching was also a big part of the win for Keystone. Troy Gardner threw 56 pitches for Keystone in four innings, striking out four, while allowing just one run and four hits.
Keystone reliever Aaron Swartz may have looked the most impressive from the mound. Swartz threw just 23 pitches, but struck out four of the five batters he faced, and allowed no hits.
"He is always lights out and pounds that strike zone," Corl said. "It's just what he does. He throws a lot of strikes"
With the win Keystone will play Cressona today at four in the winner's bracket of the Section 3 tournament. Danville will move on to the loser's bracket, where it will play in the consolation game tonight at 7 in Cressona.
A win would put Keystone into Tuesday's championship. A loss would drop Keystone into Monday's consolation. An extra game for the championship in this four-game double elimination would be Wednesday.
With his team plowing its way through the competition, Corl believes that Keystone has good odds of taking home a Section 3 championship.
"If we get the bats moving a little more than we did tonight I feel good about it," he said.
Keystone 014 100 6 8 0
Danville 010 000 1 4 1
Troy Gardner (W), Aaron Swartz and Malik Houtz; Brandon McGaw (L), Preston Fausnaught, Brycen Heimbach and Preston Fausnaught, Brandon McGaw.
Keystone top hitters: Zach Eck 2-3, 2B, GS; Tanner Levelle 2-3, 2B; Troy Gardner 2-4, HR. Danville top hitters: Alex Robenholt 2-3.