One of the last at-bats of Justin Horn’s summer showed just how far the rising Upper Dublin junior has come this year.
Horn was playing in the Keystone Klash, a three-game showcase series for top young players in Pennsylvania and was up to hit in a crucial spot in the final game. While the first two games had been high-scoring slugfests, the rubber match was a tight contest.
In the big spot, Horn came up big, connecting for a two-run hit that ended up being the game-winner in an eventual 2-1 win for his White Team.
“First pitch he threw me a pretty nasty curveball for a strike and from that point I knew I needed to focus on the fastball and hit that,” Horn said. “He came back with a fastball away for ball one, then I got the hit through the left side on a fastball inside. I was really excited, my teammates were happy because it was the third game and we were tied in the series so it was a big hit from that perspective.”
The Keystone Klash, which is part of the annual Big 26 Baseball Classic, featured 52 players from across the state and took place from July 24-26 at Susquehanna Bank Park, the home of the Williamsport Crosscutters. It was a fitting capper on Horn’s breakout year, which started all the way back in preseason for his high school team.
While the Flying Cardinals had plenty of seniors and juniors on their roster, Horn was able to make varsity to start the season and quickly became a fixture in coach Ed Wall’s lineup. Playing mostly at shortstop, Horn hit the ball well through the high school season as the Cards earned the No. 6 seed in the District I playoffs. Cracking the lineup was just the first step in a productive few months for the rising junior.
“My goal was to make varsity and hopefully contribute right away,” Horn said. “Our coaches want us to focus in big situations so I think that helped knowing you’ve got to get a hit or make a play in the field so you have to focus as much as you can.”
Horn had plenty of moments that showed his potential, but like many young players, he wasn’t always consistent. He said the biggest thing he wants to improve on over the next couple of years is being consistent in every aspect of the game, from fielding to hitting and potentially pitching.
One thing that helped him along in that respect was his veteran teammates during the high school and American Legion campaigns. Horn said in the cases where he made an error or a mistake, his teammates always picked him up, gave him some encouragement and his pitchers were often able to get the next out right away.
Following the high school season, Horn cracked another tough roster, making the cut for the SOL American/Continental Carpenter Cup team. Wall was the team’s head coach and is a big proponent of his players getting in as much experience as possible throughout the summer. While the SOL American/Continental team’s run lasted just two games, Horn had some success in both games.
“The pitching was excellent, it was much better than a lot of what we had seen during the school season and that’s one thing I took out of it was that I was able to hit some of the better pitching,” Horn said. “I have more of a perspective so I can help the guys in my grade as they come up in their junior or senior year. I have experience I can share with them.”
Horn carried his success into Legion play, where he was a key part of the Fort Washington Generals. The shortstop led the team in average (.415), on base percentage (.519), hits (27), runs (25), steals (19) and had a (.912) fielding percentage.
Legion saw Horn move up in the batting order, hitting leadoff or second most nights and it seemed to fit his skills quite well. He hopes that success can translate into his junior and senior year at Upper Dublin.
“It’s something I really enjoy,” Horn said. “I’m good at getting on base any way I can, I can do a base hit bunt if I need to and I know my teammates behind me are going to be able to get me around the bases.”
In the three games in Williamsport, Horn’s offensive game stayed on-point. He hit 3-for-6 in the series, managing to drive in three runs and crossed home plate three times and his heroics in the rubber match earned him player of the game honors.
Horn’s long term goal to play baseball as long as he can and he wants to play in college, even if its only at the club level. He said he’s at his best in game settings, but making it through the tryout process at two prestigious showcases also helped his confidence.
With a lot of talent due back to the Cardinals next spring, Horn is hopeful his lessons this summer can help the team extend its season in the playoffs.
“Our coaches do a great job of making sure everything we do on the field will make us better,” Horn said. “Our seniors were a big influence because now I know what it takes to build a winning team and make the playoffs.”
Top photo: Upper Dublin’s Justin Horn hits a single, advancing Conor McFadden to second during the Cardinals’ game against Cheltenham on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. (Bob Raines/Montgomery Media)