P-O coach Doug Sankey discusses the baseball team’s success
Coming off a broken foot from basketball season, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Keegan Soltis admitted he harbored a few doubts about meeting his individual goals this baseball season.
But, in the midst of one of Centre County’s best performances of the season, Soltis said with a smile this week that those doubts are long gone. In fact, he’s already been able to check off most of his goals: Improve last season’s .409 batting average, record at least 20 RBIs and tally at least 25 hits.
“I wouldn’t have imagined it,” Soltis said with a slight shrug.
Despite missing the season’s first three games with that foot, one that kept him sidelined for a total of 11 weeks going back to basketball, Soltis hasn’t skipped a beat. He already boasts 24 hits and has 24 RBIs — a quarter of the Mounties’ team RBIs — in addition to putting together an incredible batting average of .511.
In 16 games this season and with one regular-season game to go, he’s gotten hits in all but two contests. He also finished with at least three hits in a quarter of those starts.
According to P-O manager Doug Sankey, who’s coached the Mounties for 22 years, that puts Soltis in pretty elite company. Sankey couldn’t remember more than 4-5 players — such as MLB draft picks Matt Adams and Adam White — who ever reached the elusive .500 plateau.
“It’s tough to do,” Sankey said. “And, with the law of averages, sometimes you’re just going to line out. But he hits the ball hard, and he barrels everything up — that’s the key to Keegan. He hits the ball on the barrel consistently and with authority.”
During practice Monday, Soltis stepped into the batting cages and never broke focus, even when some of his teammates chirped at him from just outside. While they cracked a few jokes, Soltis smiled — but never took his eye off the pitching machine, which was programmed to throw balls mimicking speeds in the 70s.
He took five quick swings and made solid contact five times. “That’s six!” one of his teammates yelled. Soltis just smiled again, shouted back, “That was five!” and never broke eye contact with the machine — until he hit his sixth and final pitch.
“His focus is a big key,” longtime friend and teammate Ryan Kephart said. “On deck, at the plate, he doesn’t like to get out. He’s tough as nails.”
That’s been evident since the start of the season. He still took batting practice in a walking boot — yes, with his doctor’s OK — and, in his first game in the lineup, he went 1-for-2 with an RBI while helping mercy-rule Central 15-4. In his second game back, in two at-bats, he smacked two homers and added six RBIs in a 17-11 win over Bald Eagle Area.
His first homer carried over the fence in dead-center and gave the Mounties a spark. They ended up with six runs that frame.
“Just another Keegan Soltis moment,” added Kephart, an infielder. “He’s been having success all his life. It’s just what we expect of him.”
Kephart should know. He and Soltis have been friends since they were both 6 years old, and they’ve been playing baseball together for at least eight years. Kephart still remembers realizing back when he was 11 that his friend was in for a special career.
During a Little League game on a warm summer day at Chester Hill, Soltis sent one pitch screaming over the left-field fence — one that traveled so far that it went over the fire truck parked right behind.
“Yeah, I remember that,” Soltis said with a laugh. “I remember being like, ‘Did that just happen?’”
Since then, right after a growth spurt, the 5-foot-9 and 180-pound third baseman knew he had a future. He started as a freshman and batted .345, then swore he’d avoid a sophomore slump and batted .409 — and now he’s batting .511 as a junior.
And Sankey said Soltis’ talent extends beyond those numbers at the plate.
“The thing people don’t notice is I think he’s the best defensive third baseman in the Mountain League,” he said. “His defense for us has been phenomenal. His range, his arm — he’s just athletic. He’s made play after play for us this year; he’s saved us a lot of runs.”
In another matchup against Central, which P-O won 4-3, Soltis turned a 5-4-3 double play to end the game. And in another game, with the bases loaded, Soltis showed off his range by turning a 5-2-3 double play to keep the opponent off the scoreboard.
Soltis’ ultimate goal is to play college baseball, whether it’s Division I or II. And he’s received some Div. I interest from the likes of Longwood in Virginia.
But, before he gets there, the junior with the hot glove and hotter bat has one goal left on his to-do list. And it just so happens to be at the top of his list.
“District 6 championship,” he said. “That’s the biggest one I have left.”
And with the way he’s taken down his other goals so far this season, no one’s counting out the Mounties — or Soltis — this postseason.