"It's ... a great honor, especially since the game is for charity." Matt Byron
Despite the loss, the Air Force’s Anthony Hajdu made the most of his final opportunity playing on his home field at Kenston High School. Hajdu finished the game with two hits, including a single and a double, and pitched a scoreless third inning on the mound.
Hajdu was one of 11 Geauga County seniors to play in the Ohio Varsity All-Star Classic last Sunday. The game was meant to be nine innings, but was called in the eighth inning due to rain, with the Marines winning 4-1.
The Heidelberg-bound Hajdu was one of three Bombers to play in the game, joined by Mitch Lyon and Pete Rozman. The Bombers played for Kirtland coach Luke Smrdel on the afternoon. Smrdel was the CVC Valley Coach of the Year.
Hajdu talked about how he was able to see the All-Star Classic last year at Classic Park.
“I watched the seniors last year; I could tell how much fun they were having; I wanted to be part of it this year,” Hajdu said.?”It was fun to get out there and meet some new guys, and get to play my last game with Pete (Rozman) and Mitch (Lyon).”
Hajdu tried to bring the Air Force back after falling behind 3-0 with a three-run fifth inning. He led the Air Force’s seventh inning charge when he drew a leadoff walk after advancing to second after a single by Domenic Camino (Kirtland).
West Geauga’s Mike Koller then singled in Hajdu to cut the deficit to 3-1. The Marines would then retire the next six of seven Air Force batters.
Koller was joined on the Air Force team by teammates Matt Byron and Andrew Centrackio.
Byron will continue his baseball career at John Carroll. He earned first-team CVC Chagrin this season while playing for his father, Phil.
“It’s a good opportunity, and great honor, especially since the game is for charity,”?Byron said. “Being recognized as one of the best in Northeast Ohio is a great privilege. I also found that I didn’t like the guys when I was playing against them, but when they became teammates they’re nice.”
Byron jokingly finished by saying the game will go down with an asterisk because it didn’t go the full nine innings.
Chardon senior Drew Gittens had the opportunity to start for the Air Force. Gittens also had a chance to pitch in the seventh inning. The senior finish hitless in two plate appearances, and pitched to only four hitters, giving up a solo home run to Seton Hall-bound Sam Vilk (Mentor), the first home run in All-Star Classic history.
Gittens, in his typical well-spoken reserved manner, said: “First of all, its an honor to be selected. You work so hard your whole life to be in a position where you can play with people like this and be considered to be at this talent level. Once you get here, guys are personable, and you hear the names and stats, but behind that they’re all kids, too,” Gittens said.
Gittens, who finished the last two years as an All-PAC performer, will continue his playing career and education at Capital University. He has already attended orientation and scheduled classes for the fall.
Cardinal senior James Byler started for the winning side, hitting in the third spot. Byler earned CVC Honorable Mention this year for the Huskies.
Byler spoke of his excitement to play in the game and to be on the winning team.
“Today was something else, to be able to play with these guys,” Byler said. “I didn’t have great plate appearances, but it was fun.”
Despite not making the team practice, Byler was able to spend time with his dad practicing in the weeks leading up to the game.
“I owe a lot to him,” Byler said. “He took me out a lot and worked on my swing. He is the main reason why I’m here today.”
Chagrin Falls was represented by Johnny Thombs and Brennan Morrell.
The Marines also won the inaugural All-Star Classic held at Classic Park in Eastlake. The Marines were coached this year by Marc Lowther of Cuyahoga Heights. His son Zac Lowther, Xavier University-bound, was the starting pitcher.
The winning pitcher for the Marines was Kirk Janoch of Aurora.
The game served as a benefit for the Wounded Warrior Project; its mission is to honor and empower wounded warriors. Members of the military were present during the game.
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