SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT – The Red Land Little League that is threatening to take the Little League World Series by storm in many ways takes its lead from a former Pittston family.
JK Kolmansberger, who graduated from Pittston Area in 1986 after working at the Sunday Dispatch throughout high school, is an assistant coach on the Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic Regional champions.
With LLWS officials making special arrangements to handle the crowds, Red Land put on an awesome power display in its Friday night series opener, crushing Webb City, Missouri, the Midwest Region champion, 18-0, in four innings before an announced crowd of 32,634.
Many of the boys who make up the team have been coached from the time they were 5 by a combination that includes JK and his father Jim, a retired Pittston Area teacher and multisport coach who moved to York County to be near his three sons and his grandchildren.
JK’s son, Braden, is the Red Land leadoff hitter and second baseman.
When Braden scored two runs while going 1-for-3 with a walk in the last of eight opening-round games Friday, the crowd at Lamade Stadium included his great-uncle Jack Kolmansberger, a member of the 1955 Pittston Little League team that made it to Williamsport. Jack made the ride in from Toms River, New Jersey.
Red Land has not just won the district, sectional, state and regional tournaments. It has done so by mashing opponents, averaging five home runs per game on the road to Williamsport. There were three more Friday night at Lamade Stadium, increasing the team’s margin of victory through 17 games to an almost incomprehensible 262-13.
“Everybody focuses on the runs we score, but we think they’re missing the real story,” JK said Thursday during a break at the Little League Complex. “We haven’t given up a lot of runs.
“We had the least runs against in our state, the least in our region.”
Just as there are power hitters, there are impressive arms on the Red Land pitching staff, but JK and the rest of the coaches also make sure that the talent is not wasted.
“We spend a lot of time teaching defense,” he said. “That’s the thing we’re most proud of. The kids have been making plays.
“The kids know where to go with the ball. In each situation, they know what to do and when to do it.”
With the stingy defense in place, the offense goes on the attack like it did in a 17-0, four-inning win over Back Mountain National from Dallas in the state championship game.
“They’re all up there to hit home runs,” Red Land manager Tom Peifer said. “Quite frankly, that’s our approach, to see how far they can hit it.
“We’re never upset about striking out.”
Like most leadoff hitters, the first thing that stands out about Braden Kolmansberger is his speed. The 5-foot-3, 87-pounder, however, has some pop, too.
Braden is third on the team with 32 runs scored and sixth with five home runs while batting .477. He has also filled in on the mound with two scoreless innings.
The 13-year-old has learned sports, growing up in an athletic family. He plays baseball 12 months a year, also excels in soccer on the travel level and plays basketball recreationally.
Jim coached Pittston St. John’s to the 1973 Pennsylvania Catholic Interscholastic Athletic Association Class C basketball state championship game. He was the Pittston Area head baseball coach for 20 years and a teacher for 40 years, “coaching everything,” along the way, as JK said.
JK played baseball, football and basketball at Pittston Area. He met his wife Kristie while at Bloomsburg University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational relations. He then earned an MBA and MS in information systems from the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business.
One of three founders of VisiQuate, a financial analytics company, JK moved his family from Baltimore to New Cumberland in northern York County in 2002. With his other sons in Harrisburg and Baltimore, Jim moved to New Cumberland as well, served as an assistant baseball coach at Red Land High School and began helping JK coach Braden’s teams.
They are sharing the excitement of making it to the final step of the largest and most prestigious youth sports competition in the world.
“You have an idea this is possible,” JK said. “These kids have been to three state championships and have had a lot of success, but you can never expect to end up in Williamsport.
“We knew they were talented. We knew they work hard. They practice 12 months a year. We don’t let them throw all year, but they’re hitting and doing different things together.”
That effort has shown.