Local stars have a chance to shine at Keystone Games

Area high school base­ball play­ers are bound for Har­ris­burg for the Key­stone Games, the "largest multi-sport event in the state."

  • Father Judge’s Justin Bradley is one of a few key leaders head coach Ed McArdle is counting on in order to have success at the Keystone Games.

  • Head coach Ed McArdle hopes his scholastic roster of high school juniors and seniors can qualify for the Keystone Games medal round on Sunday. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Keystone kids: Ryan McArdle takes his hacks at a inter-squad scrimmage before the teams left for Harrisburg. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Phil­adelphia is home to some of the finest, most tal­en­ted high school stu­dent-ath­letes in the state.

Later this week and week­end, Ed McArdle hopes to prove it.

McArdle has coached vari­ous sports and age levels over the course of a 20-plus year ca­reer, most not­ably with the Somer­ton Youth Or­gan­iz­a­tion Ju­ni­or Amer­ic­an Le­gion base­ball team. This sum­mer, he has taken on a new head coach­ing gig, lead­ing a group of high school ju­ni­ors and seni­ors to Har­ris­burg from Thursday through Sunday for the Key­stone Games, the “largest multi-sport event in the state of Pennsylvania,” ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial press re­lease by Owen Cos­tello, the Key­stone Games CEO.

The Key­stone Games fea­ture more than 15 sports for male and fe­male stu­dent-ath­letes. In ad­di­tion to base­ball, com­pet­it­ors will par­ti­cip­ate in pop­u­lar main­stream sports such as soc­cer, soft­ball, lacrosse and field and ice hockey, as well as ad­di­tion­al games in bowl­ing, judo, kar­ate, gym­nastics and power­lift­ing, among oth­ers.

Phil­adelphia will send two teams for base­ball: a ju­ni­or roster of fresh­men and sopho­mores, as well as McArdle’s schol­ast­ic group of ju­ni­ors and seni­ors. Play­ers come from high schools throughout the Philly area, but North­east schools, namely Fath­er Judge and Arch­bish­op Ry­an, are very well rep­res­en­ted: Judge boasts five play­ers on each roster, while Ry­an has three on the schol­ast­ic squad and an­oth­er five on the ju­ni­or team. Oth­er area in­sti­tu­tions such as Frank­lin Towne Charter, New Found­a­tions Charter and Phil­adelphia Academy Charter are rep­res­en­ted, as well.

“Last year, we went up there a little short,” said McArdle, who is in his second year with the Key­stone Games but his first as head coach. “So I emailed every high school coach in our ter­rit­ory, mostly from the Cath­ol­ic, Pub­lic and Inter-Ac Leagues. The last few years, our ju­ni­or team was suc­cess­ful enough to ad­vance to the medal round on Sunday, but our older guys have struggled. We wanted to at­tract the best play­ers we could. We want to go there and rep­res­ent Phil­adelphia. Our ex­pect­a­tion is to win it, or at least get to Sunday and see what hap­pens.”

It will cer­tainly be a whirl­wind couple of days for McArdle and com­pany. Be­gin­ning Thursday morn­ing, the schol­ast­ic team will par­ti­cip­ate in a show­case event, work­ing out in front of col­lege scouts and coaches, hop­ing to get no­ticed. Then, they will play double­head­ers on Thursday, Fri­day and Sat­urday in the round robin style tour­na­ment in hopes of be­ing in the run­ning on Sunday.

All of those in­volved know it won’t be easy. Try­outs began in early June, but as McArdle said, due to oth­er sum­mer com­mit­ments that the play­ers have, it’s been dif­fi­cult to get the en­tire roster to­geth­er at once.

“I’m not sure we’ve had a prac­tice yet with every play­er there,” McArdle said. “Are we ready? I think we’re as ready as we can get them. The thing I like about this year is we’re a lot deep­er and more tal­en­ted than in years past.”

As a res­ult, McArdle is lean­ing on a hand­ful of play­ers who have been here be­fore. Lead­ing the pack is Ry­an McArdle, Ed’s son, a seni­or-to-be base­ball and foot­ball play­er at Arch­bish­op Ry­an (Ed’s neph­ew and Ry­an’s uncle, Frank, is the head foot­ball coach at the school). It will be Ry­an’s third Key­stone Games; it will also be the third go-round for Judge catch­er Aus­tin Mikula, and the second for his Judge team­mate, ju­ni­or Justin Brad­ley, who played on the ju­ni­or roster last year. Be­cause it’s chal­len­ging to get the en­tire team to­geth­er to gel as a unit, Ed McArdle is hop­ing this trio draws on past suc­cess and fail­ure and ap­plies those ex­per­i­ences to the 2013 games.

“I hon­estly think we can get to the medal round and win,” Ry­an McArdle said. “We have a sol­id team with some nice pitch­ers. Really, I just want to win a few more games this time, as well as hav­ing fun with these new kids I’ve be­come fast friends with. As a lead­er, I just want to bring us all closer to­geth­er.”

“We haven’t played a whole lot to­geth­er, but I still feel like there’s some good chem­istry,” Mikula ad­ded. “Since we all go to schools around here, we’ve played against each oth­er. Per­son­ally, I know how good they are. We’re ba­sic­ally the same kind of people, which is why I can see us work­ing to­geth­er and hav­ing fun.”

Brad­ley, a pitch­er and third base­man, shared his team­mate’s sen­ti­ment.

“It’s all for one, one for all,” he said. “You get to play with guys you com­pete against and see they’re just reg­u­lar, neigh­bor­hood kids, like you. Take the Ry­an guys, for ex­ample. Those guys are good kids. After something like this, you don’t look at them as ‘Ry­an kids.’ They’re just play­ers, play­ers who be­come friends at the end of the day. We want to come up big for each oth­er.”

After speak­ing to some of those mak­ing the trip to Har­ris­burg, it’s clear the teams aren’t go­ing just to show up. They want to make an im­pact, to show the scouts and com­pet­i­tion from across the state that Phil­adelphia does in­deed have some of the best high school ath­let­ic tal­ent.

When he built the roster, Ed McArdle fo­cused on tab­bing play­ers that could play mul­tiple po­s­i­tions. Hav­ing a team full of in­ter­change­able parts will provide more ver­sat­il­ity, which will come in handy with the team play­ing two games in three con­sec­ut­ive days.

“We have pitch­ers who can play mul­tiple po­s­i­tions,” he said. “We also have catch­ers who can pitch, in­field­ers that can play the out­field, and vice versa. We’re treat­ing it as a busi­ness trip, but also we look at it as a big life-learn­ing ex­per­i­ence. Really, its about the kids get­ting the best ex­per­i­ence they can. They’re the ones who keep me go­ing.”

What is really mo­tiv­at­ing the play­ers is see­ing how they stack up against the rest of the state. If they have suc­cess, then odds are it will at­tract more at­ten­tion from po­ten­tial col­leges down the line. It won’t be easy, but then again, it prob­ably wouldn’t be as fun if it were.

“What I’m look­ing for is a chal­lenge,” Brad­ley said. “Dur­ing the year it’s a chal­lenge play­ing in the Cath­ol­ic League, but these kids, they’re the best in the en­tire state. I want to see where I rank and my team ranks on the lead­er­board. Kids up there will be good, no ques­tion. I want to see if we can beat them, and I think we can. It’s a huge chal­lenge, but our team is good, and I know we can push through.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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