On a roster filled with Division I college-bound athletes, Keystone juniors Madi Cendrosky and Paige Hartley have had the unique experience of being Division I recruits without the pressure and scrutiny that usually goes along with that exalted status.
Cendrosky and Hartley have orally committed to Cleveland State but on a team with six Division I recruits they know they don’t have to carry the team.
“It’s so much fun to be on this team,” said Hartley, the Wildcats’ starting center fielder. “We have so much talent on this team and we have so much trust in each other that there isn’t much pressure on any one individual.”
Hartley and Cendrosky have put up almost identical stats this season. Hartley is hitting .388 with 17 RBIs. Cendrosky is hitting .384 with 20 RBIs. Both have five doubles, two triples and two home runs.
Wildcats coach Jim Piazza said each player brings a unique skill set to a Keystone (27-4) team that will face Hamilton Ross (21-9) in the Division II state semifinals Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Firestone Stadium in Akron.
“Paige is one of the best center fielders around, she covers so much ground,” Piazza said. “And Madi is a great situational hitter. She does a great job of taking the ball to the opposite field. She does things that you can’t see in the batting average.”
Cendrosky can usually be found in the Keystone lineup as the designated player but has also seen action at first base and has a 2-1 record in three starts in the pitchers circle.
“It’s insane how many D-I recruits we have on our team,” Cendrosky said. “It’s such a cool experience to play with such talented teammates. I feel like we don’t realize how lucky we are to play with such a gifted group of athletes. We’re one of the few teams who can replace anyone on the field with someone coming off the bench who is just as good.”
Hartley, who is also second on the Wildcats with 12 stolen bases, thinks the talent level on the Keystone roster and the team’s work ethic go hand in hand.
“We push ourselves more because we know we’re going to play college ball after high school and we want to be the best we can be,” Hartley said.
Piazza stresses to his players that everyone plays an equal role in the Wildcats’ success no matter if they are a Big Ten recruit or a pinch runner coming off the bench.
“When we accept the roles of who we are and what we’re supposed to do then everyone on the team is equally important,” Piazza said. “All of the kids have bought into their roles.”
Cendrosky said those roles even extend off the field and follow the players into the community.
“Our tradition drives us,” she said. “If you’re not having a good day you want to keep your head up and make the people who came before you, who are still coming back to watch you play, proud of the program. Also, you see the little girls who come to the game and they know our names and who we are. That makes you change your character a little bit. You want to be a positive role model. It helps you mature more quickly.”
Cendrosky’s game has also matured this season, having a career year in almost every offensive category. She has improved her batting average more than 60 points since freshman year. Her two home runs this season were the first of her career.
“It’s our competitive mentality that sets us apart,” Cendrosky said. “If anyone on this team messes up they want to be two times better the next time.”
Hartley is 32-for-36 on stolen base attempts in her career. She also set career highs in hits and RBIs this season. She gives much of the credit for the team’s success to Piazza, who has coached the team to two state titles in his 14 seasons.
“Coach P knows how to work us, he stresses the fundamentals and makes us work hard,” Hartley said. “He’s made us the players that we are today.”
At the state tournament, where games are often decided by which team is able to take advantage of limited scoring opportunities, it’s players like Hartley or Cendrosky who could decide if Keystone comes home with a championship trophy or shattered dreams.
“That’s the part that’s lost in today’s game,” Piazza said. “Everybody thinks they have to be a superstar, but role players are the key to a championship team. Every team is extremely talented when you get to this level. Having players like Paige and Madi could go a long way to making the difference. It’s the little things that win games and putting down a bunt or stealing a base could be the difference in the next two games.”
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 2 Keystone (27-4) vs. Hamilton Ross (21-7)
WHAT: Division II semifinal
WHEN: Friday, 10 a.m.
WHERE: Firestone Stadium, Akron
AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday’s final at 4 p.m. against the winner of the Hebron Lakewood-Akron Hoban semifinal.