SCRANTON — Fresh off a run to the Little League state finals, Todd Kolbicka is ready to take a swing at another big championship.
Over the next three days, the soon-to-be Hanover Area sophomore will not only have his eye on the ball, but a gold medal in the Keystone State Games.
“Have fun, and hopefully make the championship,” Kolbicka said of his goals.
If that seems far-fetched, considering Kolbicka will be playing for a Pocono 2 baseball team that’s considered the lesser of the two teams in his own region, consider this:
His Hanover Area Senior Little League baseball team wasn’t given much of a chance in the Little League All-Star playoffs earlier this month — before finishing as the Pennsylvania runner-up.
“A lot of people said we were going to be a two-games-and-done team,” Kolbicka said.”We turned a lot of heads.”
The head-turning began Wednesday for the Keystone Games, as the sport of baseball kicked off with a showcase at the University of Scranton’s baseball field.
Players from all regions of the state were timed in a 60-yard dash, took some cuts in the net-covered batting cages, worked some fielding drills and cut loose from the bullpen pitcher’s mounds while being clocked.
“Very fun,” said Pittston Area’s Cole Cherkas, a member of the Pocono 1 team. “It’s a great way to show off everything.”
Cherkas went 2-0 while pitching as a sophomore in Wyoming Valley Conference play last season, to go along with his .405 batting average, seven RBI and six doubles for the Patriots last year.
He’s the guy who ended the 20-game winning streak of 2017 state champion Dallas by throwing a complete-game four-hitter and driving home two runs in Pittston Area’s 10-2 victory over the Mountaineers late in the 2018 season.
Not surprisingly, the pitching portion of Wednesday’s showcase gave Cherkas the most delight, as he hit 78 mph on the radar gun.
“It was around where I thought,” Cherkas said of his numbers. “I thought it was refreshing, to get out there and show something off, instead of holding it back, saving it.”
He’s also built like a football lineman, is a catcher and first baseman when he’s not on the mound and didn’t exactly get a thrill from the sprint portion of the day.
“Nah, I’m not really a big fan of running,” Cherkas laughed.
Hanover Area High School quickly became a big fan of Kolbicka, who played a steady shortstop and went 3-0 as a pitcher during his freshman season as the Hawkeyes won their first 13 games of 2018, capturing the WVC Division 3 title and earning a spot in the District 2 Class 3A semifinals along the way.
Hustling at shortstop for the Pocono Region, Kolbicka was flawless in his three fielding attempts — something that’s become a point of pride to him.
“Honestly, I love fielding,” Kolbicka said. “We took three balls, one to the glove side, one backhand and one charging. That’s my favorite thing to do.”
The Keystone Games, he said, will give him the opportunity to stay right in the swing of things, since his Senior Little League team was defeated in the Pennsylvania title round just 10 days ago before Wednesday’s showcase.
“I think I’m going to see a lot of great competition,” Kolbicka said. “Hopefully, it’ll make me a better player. I was mostly on the field or hitting. I didn’t want to just stand around and watch. It was fun. Hopefully, I’ll do it next year, too.”
Meanwhile, Cherkas found some scouting to do.
He was able to get a good look at what pitchers from other regions may be bringing — something that could come in handy should he face one of them later in the Keystone Games.
“Oh definitely,” Cherkas said. “It’s a great way to see what other people have to offer. Not only from a baseball aspect, but a social aspect, too.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski